The quadriceps are the four large muscles at the front of the upper leg that help to stabilise the knee and hip and allow movement. The rectus femoris is the most commonly injured because of its location at the front of the muscle. The most common type of injury is a contusion (the skin is bruised but not broken), which can result from a direct blow to the thigh from another person or object. However, overuse and poor conditioning can also lead to injury.
Other injuries range from strains and tears of the quadriceps tendon to more disabling ruptures. Each injury affects a different area of the muscle and a different type of athlete. A quadriceps strain occurs at the muscle tendon junction and is known as jumper’s knee. A partial tear occurs at the head of the rectus femoris while a full rupture occurs at the mid-thigh and is common among high jumpers, weight lifters and basketball players.
Symptoms of quadriceps injuries include:
- Pain in the front of the thigh, especially with weight bearing and when bending the knee
- Swelling and tenderness in the area
- Compartment syndrome resulting from severe trauma and large contusion. A compartment syndrome is a condition caused by swelling within the space or “compartment” that contains muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bones. This is a possibility in patients who have suffered crushing injuries, in patients on anticoagulants or those who suffer from bleeding disorders
- Pain with ambulation and inability to bend or extend (straighten) the knee. This may occur immediately following the injury or 1-3 days later
- In the case of a complete tear, the person may be unable to extend the knee to stand or raise the leg straight up
Physiotherapy is vital in promoting healing of quadriceps injuries and restoring normal function. Initial treatment is RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation), then heat may be applied. Ultrasound, massage and whirlpool treatments help to relieve pain and reduce stiffness. You may have to be trained in the use of crutches or a cane until you are strong and stable enough to walk without it. A programme of stretching and strengthening exercises will restore mobility and condition the muscles to prevent future injury. We will also advise on ways to improve your technique in order to avoid overworking the muscle.