How do I Treat a Quadriceps Strain?

A. Pasbjerg

The quadriceps are muscles located at the front of the thigh. These muscles can become strained from overuse or by being severely stressed beyond their limits, usually by people involved in physically intense sports such as football, rugby, or running. When a person suffers a quadriceps strain, his or her doctor will typically evaluate the injury to determine how it needs to be handled. Quadriceps strains are classified in three grades; grade one, where the muscle is over-stretched or only slightly torn; grade two, where the muscle is partially torn; and grade three, where the muscle is completely torn or ruptured. The appropriate course of treatment will depend on the extent of the damage and will range from rest and ice to surgery.

Rugby players are at risk for quadriceps sprains.
Rugby players are at risk for quadriceps sprains.

Treatment of a grade one quadriceps strain typically involves the RICE method of rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Use of the injured muscle should be minimized; any activities that cause pain, particularly sports, should be avoided while it heals. Application of ice packs, compression with a bandage, and keeping the strained leg elevated can all help minimize swelling. Since these types of strains are usually painful, medications such as NSAIDs or aspirin are often helpful to ease discomfort.

Football players run the risk of straining the quadriceps muscles.
Football players run the risk of straining the quadriceps muscles.

A grade two quadriceps strain is initially treated similarly to a grade one strain. Both the RICE rule and the use of medication are applied first to help with pain and swelling. Due to the tearing in the muscle, however, these types of strains are more severe and typically take months rather than days or weeks to heal. A doctor may recommend a cast on the leg to immobilize it and aid in healing during this time. The muscle damage may lead to loss of strength or range of motion in the affected leg, and a course of physical therapy including stretching and strengthening exercises for rehabilitation is typically necessary.

The most severe type of quadriceps strain, grade three, is far more serious than the first two. When the muscle ruptures completely, either tearing apart or breaking away from its tendon, it ceases to function normally. These injuries are extremely painful and debilitating, and unless treated appropriately, the patient runs the risk of losing normal function of his or her leg. Surgical intervention is usually necessary in these cases to repair the torn muscle. After recuperation from surgery, several months of physical therapy will typically be needed to completely restore the muscle's strength and flexibility.

Quadriceps strains are classified in three grades.
Quadriceps strains are classified in three grades.

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