Muscle Strains in the Thigh
Other popular names
- Muscle pull
- Muscle tear
- Groin strain
Who does it affect?
Normally highly active people and particularly those who participate in sport.
Why does it happen?
The thigh has three sets of strong muscles: the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles in the front, and the adductor muscles on the inside. The quadriceps muscles and hamstring muscles work together to straighten (extend) and bend (flex) the leg. The adductor muscles pull the legs together.
The hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints. They are also used for high-speed activities, such as athletics, running, football, rugby and tennis.
A person who experiences a muscle strain in the thigh will frequently describe a popping or snapping sensation 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.
Muscle strains usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, causing a tearing of the muscle fibres. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle. Muscle strains in the thigh can be quite painful.
Once a muscle strain occurs, the muscle is vulnerable to re-injury; therefore, it is important to let the muscle heal properly and to follow preventive protocols.
Your consultant will ask about the injury and examine your thigh for tenderness or bruising. You may be asked to bend or straighten your knee and/or hip so the diagnosis can be confirmed.
If there are other suspected injuries, an x-ray may be taken. Muscle strains are graded according to their severity. A grade 1 strain is mild and usually heals readily, whereas 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 protocol. RICE stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
- Rest. Take a break from the activity that caused the strain.
- Ice. Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression. To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage.
- Elevation. To minimize swelling, keep your leg up higher than your heart.
- Deep tissue ultrasound
You may also be given a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as aspirin or another analgesic for pain relief. As the pain and swelling subside, physical therapy will help improve range of motion and strength. The muscle should be at full strength and pain-free before you return to sports. This will help prevent additional injury.
Unless the muscle is torn or has been overstretched and does not return to normal, surgery is unlikely to be needed.
Preventing Muscle Strains
Several factors can predispose you to muscle strains, including:
- Muscle tightness. Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain. Stretching exercises can prevent injury.
- Muscle imbalance. Because the quadriceps and hamstring muscles work together, if one is stronger than the other, the weaker muscle can become strained.
- Poor conditioning. If your muscles are weak, they are less able to cope with the stress of exercise and are more likely to be injured.
- Muscle fatigue. Fatigue reduces the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscle, making them more susceptible to injury.
- 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 previous levels. This can take 10 days to 3 weeks for a mild strain, and up to 6 months for a severe strain, such as a hamstring strain.