By Amy McGorry
Who “kneeds” quadriceps strain sidelining them?! Bad puns may be annoying, but so can a nagging quadriceps injury. Whether you hit the hardwood, the gridiron or the baseball diamond, a quadriceps strain can hit you.
The quadriceps muscle is actually a group of four muscles in your front thigh that connect to your knee just below the knee cap. They straighten the knee to help you kick a ball. They bend your knee, enabling you to squat. They move your leg forward as you run and fire as your foot contacts the ground to absorb shock. These muscles also help you jump and provide stability during one-leg standing like during a layup. (Blame them for your inability to dunk!)
When Knees Are A Pain
Athletes with quadriceps strains often complain of a “pulling” sensation in the front of the thigh. Pain, swelling, bruising and muscle tenderness may also occur. Its severity is categorized by grades:
- Grade 1 is where the player has mild discomfort in the thigh and no loss of strength.
- Grade 2 is when moderate pain, swelling and some loss of strength occurs.
- Grade 3 is a complete rupture of the fibers leaving the player in severe pain and unable to walk. Grade 3 usually requires surgery.
Quadriceps tears can sideline a player anywhere from two weeks to three months depending on the severity.
Why You’re Sidelined
If a sudden motion overpowers the strength of the quads’ muscle fibers, tears can occur. This injury is common in football, basketball, soccer, running and baseball.
Sudden twists can also cause a tear in the quads, but other factors like muscle fatigue, tightness and muscle imbalance can predispose your to quadriceps tears.
A torn quad can really mess with your performance. Think of sitting into a low chair -- the quadriceps help control lowering you into the seat by working in unison with the hamstrings. If the quadriceps are not strong enough to counter the hamstring force, you “plop” down. This “ plopping” is not what you want coming down after rebounding a basketball!
In football, a lineman’s quads contract to straighten the knee, thrusting him to an upright position from a squatting position into an opposing player who weighs 300 pounds. If a tear is present, the player will have less power to boost him into the hit.
How To Get Back In The Game
Keeping muscle fibers in good alignment allows them to glide well and tolerate forces. Stretching and strengthening can help do this.
Prone Stretch On A Bench (Don’t allow back to arch)
- Lie on stomach, keeping pelvis flat on a table or bench
- Place one leg on table and the other on the floor
- Bring heel of table leg towards buttocks
- Hold 30 seconds
- Step up slowly onto a six-inch step and straighten knee
- Keep knees in line with big toe and second toe
- Now slowly lower foot back down in a controlled knee bend
- Don’t let hip pop out to side
- 2 sets of 10 reps
Ball vs. Wall
- Lean against a physioball that is between your back and wall
- Slowly squat down keeping knees in line with big toe and second toe
- 2 sets of 10 reps
Always check with a physician prior to any exercise routine. And remember: You may be sidelined... but not for long!