Thigh Muscle Strains
Many people at some point in their life, will strain a muscle somewhere in their body. A muscle strain is a common injury, especially among individuals who play sports.
A muscle strain occurs when a muscle is extended past its limit or is torn. It can range from mild to serious. It usually comes about as a result of overuse, fatigue, or incorrect use of the muscle. Strains are most common in the lower back, neck, shoulder, and hamstring.
These types of strains can produce pain and may limit movement within the affected muscle group. Mild to moderate strains can be treated with ice, heat, and anti-inflammatory medications. More severe strains or a tear may need medical treatment.
When the thigh is utilized as a critical part of high-speed activities, for example, football, soccer, running, and basketball, strains can occur frequently.
Strains are often confused with sprains. A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments (the tough bands of fibrous tissue) connecting two bones in the joints. Strains and sprains have similar symptoms but involve different parts of the body.
The thigh has three groups of strong muscles:
- Hamstring muscles: Found in the back of the thigh.
- Quadriceps muscles: Positioned in the front of the thigh.
The quadriceps and hamstrings work collectively to straighten and bend the leg.
- Adductor muscles: found inside of the thigh.
The adductor muscles pull the legs together.
Because the hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups cross at the hip and knee, they are at a higher risk of being strained. Muscles become weaker when strained, so it is important to properly heal the muscle to avoid further damage.
A thigh muscle injury often happens near the point where the muscle joins the tendon’s tough, fibrous connective tissue. When the muscle is stretched too far, the fibers can be torn. This tearing away of the muscle from the tendon can result in a painful injury.
A direct hit to one of the thigh muscles may also cause an injury. Muscle strains in the thigh can be quite painful.
Someone who experiences a muscle strain in the thigh will frequently describe a popping or snapping sensation in the thigh as the muscle tears. Pain is sudden and may be severe. The area around the injury may be tender to the touch, with visible bruising if blood vessels are also broken. Swelling and areas of bruising often extend below the thigh into the calf and ankle. This may even occur one or two days after the injury.
The Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine physician will review the patient’s history and information about the injury, symptoms and examine the thigh for tenderness and bruising.
The physician may ask the patient to bend and straighten the knee in order to determine the range of motion. In some cases, an x-ray or other diagnostics may be ordered to establish the grade of the injury. Muscle strains are graded on their degree of severity. Grade 1 is considered mild, and grade 3 is severe. A grade 1 strain can heal quickly, while a grade 3 strain might take longer to heal.
The orthopedic physician will discuss all possible treatment options to determine the best option for the patient’s injury. Since almost all thigh muscle strains can heal without surgery, the physician will probably recommend over-the-counter medicine and rest.
The R.I.C.E. protocol is utilized to treat most muscle strain injuries. This protocol can usually heal most thigh muscle strains without the need for surgery.
Rest: Discontinue the activity that caused the injury until it heals.
Ice: Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
Compression: Cover the injury in a soft compression bandage.
Elevation: Raise the injured leg higher than the heart to lessen the swelling.
The physician may also recommend over-the-counter medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (Motrin, Advil) to reduce the pain and swelling.
After the injury heals, physical therapy will help to slowly create a better range of motion in the affected leg. Before returning to regular physical activity, the patient’s thigh muscle should be completely healed.
Several risk factors can predispose someone to muscle strains, including:
- Inadequate conditioning. If the muscles are weak, they cannot handle the stress of exercise and are more prone to injury.
- Muscle imbalance. The quadriceps and hamstring muscles work in partnership, and if one is stronger than the other, the weaker muscle can become strained.
- Muscle tightness. Tight muscles are susceptible to strain. That’s why many athletes practice year-round daily stretching exercises.
- Muscle fatigue. Fatigue decreases the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscles, making them more vulnerable to injury.
People who exercise or play sports should take the following precautions to help prevent muscle strain:
- Condition the muscles with regular exercise.
- Warm-up before any exercise session or sports activity, including practice. A good warm-up prepares the body for more intense activity. It gets the blood flowing, raises the muscle temperature, and increases the breathing rate. Warming up gives the body time to adjust exercise demands and can help increase range of motion and reduce stiffness.
- Take time to cool down after exercising. Stretching slowly and gradually gives the muscle time to respond and lengthen.
- If you are injured, take time to let the muscle heal before you return to athletics. You may need to wait until your muscle strength and flexibility return to pre-injury levels. Depending on the injury, you may need to rest your muscle for ten days – three weeks for a mild strain. If it is a severe strain you may need rest as long as six months, for instance, a hamstring strain.
Most thigh muscle strains do not require surgery. Usually, grade 3 strains will heal on their own with continued rest and physical therapy. The orthopedic physician will establish the severity of the thigh strain injury and review all treatment options available with the patient.
If you have pain in your thigh due to an injury, call Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine to schedule an appointment. All Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine surgeons are fellowship-trained. They stay up to date on the latest thigh muscle strain research and treatments and will discuss all your treatment and repair options.