Muscle strains (muscle pull or tear) usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, and the muscle tissue becomes torn during an activity such as sprinting or kicking a ball. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle. Muscle strains in the thigh can be quite painful.
The thigh has three sets of strong muscles: the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles in the front, and the adductor muscles on the inside. The quadriceps located at the front of the thigh is responsible for extending the knee and bending the leg. The quadriceps group is made up of four muscles: Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Intermedius and Vastus Medialis. The adductor muscles pull the legs together.
The hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints. They are also used for high-speed activities, such as track and field events (running, hurdles, long jump), football, basketball, and soccer. A tear in a thigh muscle is referred to as a thigh strain and depending on its severity it is classified as a first, second or third degree strain:
- First degree strain is damage to a few muscle fibres
- Second degree strain is damage to a more extensive number of muscle fibres
- Third degree strain is a complete rupture of the muscle itself
Thigh Muscle Strain Signs & Symptoms
There are some common symptoms of a muscle strain including:
- Popping or snapping sensation as the muscle tears.
- Sudden and severe pain.
- Injured area may be tender to the touch, with visible bruising if blood vessels are also broken.
With a grade one thigh strain the signs may not be present until after the activity is over. There may be a sensation of cramp or Thigh tightness and a slight feeling of pain when the muscles are stretched or contracted.
With a grade two thigh strain there is immediate pain which is more severe than the pain of a grade one injury and produces pain on walking. It is confirmed by pain on stretch and contraction of the muscle. A grade two Thigh strain is usually sore to touch.
A grade three thigh strain is a complete rupture of a muscle and is a serious injury. There is immediate burning or stabbing pain and the athlete is unable to walk without pain. Often there is a depression in the thigh at the location of the tear and a lump above the depression. After a few days with grade two and three injuries a large bruise will appear below the injury site caused by bleeding within the tissues.
Most muscle strains can be treated with the RICE protocol. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. This should help to limit bleeding and swelling in the tissues. After the early days have been spent resting more active rehabilitation can be started.
Rest will relieve the pressure from the joint and ease the pain slightly. Avoid activities that aggravate the problem.
Applying Ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and pain. Try applying ice for 10-15 minutes once or twice a day.
Compression prevents additional swelling, so lightly wrap the injured area in a soft bandage or ace wrap.
Elevation minimizes swelling. Raise your leg up higher than your heart.
Your doctor may recommend a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen for pain relief.
The muscle should be at full strength and pain-free before you return to sports. This will help prevent additional injury. As a general rule, grade one thigh strains should be rested from sporting activity for about 3 weeks, and grade two thigh strains for about 4 to 6 weeks. In the case of a complete rupture the thigh muscle will have to be repaired surgically and the rehabilitation afterwards will take about 3 months.
As the pain and swelling subside, physical therapy will help improve range of motion and strength. Gentle resistance exercises and thigh stretching are important, as they help to align the scar tissue that forms during the healing process and enhance the tensile strength of the thigh muscle.
As the thigh muscles get stronger, core strength and core stability exercises can improve muscle function across the trunk and pelvis and reduce the risk of Hamstring injury. Core strength exercises using a Swiss Ball and Resistance Bands are ideal for a quick return to functional activity.
Several factors can predispose you to muscle strains, including:
- Muscle tightness.
- Muscle imbalance.
- Poor conditioning.
- Muscle fatigue.
You can take the following precautions to help prevent muscle strain:
- Condition your muscles with a regular program of exercises.
- Warm up before any exercise session or sports activity, including practice.
- Take time to cool down after exercise.
- Warm Pants (Compression Shorts) or a Thigh Support can help to retain muscle temperature and are very for the prevention of thigh muscle injuries.
- Practicing sport specific activities helps tune coordination and prepare mentally for competition
- Maintaining good muscle strength and flexibility may help prevent muscle strains.
- Carbohydrate and fluids need to be replenished during training and matches by taking Energy Gels and Energy Bars.
If you need immediate attention for any non-emergency problem like spraining your ankle, straining a muscle, or just getting bruised during the course of your normal day, then you don’t have to wait a few days to see a physician. IBJI’s OrthoAccess is designed to provide assessment, treatment and follow-up care for most orthopedic injuries. For more information, please contact us today.