A muscle strain, also called a pull or tear, is a common injury, particularly among people who participate in sports. The thigh has three sets of strong muscles:
- The hamstring muscles in the back.
- The quadriceps muscles in the front.
- The adductor muscles on the inside.
The quadriceps and hamstring muscle sets work together to straighten (extend) and bend (flex) the leg. The adductor muscles pull the legs together. The hamstring and quadriceps muscle sets are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints.
Muscle strains usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, tearing the muscle fibers. This can also occur with a direct blow to the muscle. Muscle strains in the thigh can be quite painful. If the blood vessels are broken, some bruising may evolve. It is very important to allow the muscle to heal properly to prevent re-injury.
As the muscle tears you may feel:
- Popping or snapping sensation.
- Sudden and severe pain.
- Tenderness to the touch, with visible bruising around the injured area.
Muscle strains are graded according to their severity. A grade 1 strain is mild and usually heals readily, while a grade 3 strain is a severe tear of the muscle that may take months to heal.
Most muscle strains can be treated with the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation):
- Rest: avoid activity that caused the strain.
- Ice: for 20 minutes at a time, 3-4 times a day. Do not put ice directly on the skin.
- Compression: To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage.
- Elevation: keep your leg up higher than your heart to reduce swelling.
You may use aspirin, ibuprofen or another analgesic for pain relief. As the pain and swelling subside, physical therapy will help improve range of motion and strength.
- Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain, use daily stretching exercises.
- Exercise muscle evenly. Because the quadriceps and hamstring muscles work together, if one is stronger than the other, the weaker muscle can become strained.
- Avoid exercising fatigued muscles; it decreases the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscle, making them more susceptible to injury.
- Warm-up properly to increase range of motion and reduce muscle stiffness before any exercise session or sports participation.
- Stretch slowly and gradually, holding each stretch to give the muscle time to respond and lengthen.
- Condition your muscles with a regular program of exercises.
- If you are injured, take the time needed to let the muscle heal before you return to sports. Wait until your muscle strength and flexibility return to pre-injury levels, a process that can take 10 days to 3 weeks for a mild strain, and up to 6 months for a severe strain.