Treating a Pulled Quad Muscle

quad pull treatment
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A torn quad muscle generally causes a sharp, acute pain in the thigh that will most likely stop an athlete in their tracks. A less severe injury, such as a quadriceps pull or strain, may cause tightness and discomfort, but stopping the activity and getting first aid is still the most important part of healing the injury.

The quadriceps muscle group includes four muscles located in the front (anterior) of the thigh. This muscle group acts to extend the leg. A pulled or strained quadriceps muscle causes pain in the front of the thigh. A muscle tear causes an abrupt pain that occurs during activity (often while sprinting). It may be accompanied by swelling or bruises.


The quadriceps are often injured during sprinting, kicking, hurdling, and other field sports that require bursts of speed or sudden contractions of the quads. When a runner is accelerating, the quads are contracting forcefully. If the runner has tight muscles, is fatigued, or has not properly warmed up, this force can be greater than the muscles can withstand and they can be torn or strained.

Signs and Symptoms

Muscle strains and tears are generally graded from less severe (Grade 1) to more severe (Grade 3). It's hard to mistake a Grade 3 strain of the quadriceps. The symptoms are sudden and obvious and include a sharp pain along the front of the thigh or groin, immediate swelling or bruising, and limited mobility and inability to weight bear on the injured leg.

In contrast, a Grade 1 quadriceps injury may feel like a twinge or ache along the front of the thigh. An athlete may even feel that they can continue playing, despite general discomfort and tightness in the thigh. A Grade 2 injury will fall somewhere in between in terms of severity.

Regardless of the degree of the injury, any time an athlete feels pain, sudden twinges, or an unusual tightness, it's wise to stop playing and evaluate the injury. Most aches and pains go away within a day or two, but if pain lingers longer than that, it may be time to see a physical therapist or orthopedic surgeon before that mild pain becomes chronic.

When to See the Doctor

If there is a sudden pop, pain, or obvious injury, get it checked out by a medical professional. You will need first aid as well as rehab before getting back to activity.

Treatment and Recovery

For immediate relief of muscle strains and pulls, follow the P.O.L.I.C.E. treatment plan (this principle has replaced the "RICE" method of rest, ice, compression, and elevation). POLICE stands for:

  • Protection: Similar to rest; also includes assistive devices like crutches
  • Optimum Loading: Return to activity and movement soon after the injury, but gradually
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

An anti-inflammatory medication can be helpful to reduce pain and inflammation. After applying ice, wrap your thigh in an ACE bandage to keep it compressed.

If running is continued during recovery, it must be easy, without sudden sprints. Pay attention to signs of pain or increased tenderness, and reduce exercise if any develops. Full return to activity depends on the mechanism and severity of the injury.

For serious muscle strains and tears, work with a rehab specialist to set up an appropriate return-to-activity plan. Once activity is started again, ice the muscle after exercise to reduce any swelling.


The best way to prevent a quadriceps injury is by strengthening the quadriceps muscles while keeping the entire lower body strong, flexible, and balanced. It's also important to maintain flexibility in the hamstrings. Consider doing stretches for runners after each workout, including stretching the quadriceps (don't stretch when you have a strain, though).

These exercises can be used to strengthen and tone your quadriceps muscles.

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Article Sources
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