What to Do When You Pull or Tear a Quadriceps Muscle

Signs, Symptoms, and First Aid

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


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


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

A pulled quadriceps can also be the result of a strength imbalance between the quadriceps and the hamstring. Strong hamstring muscles in the back of the leg and weak quadriceps muscles in the front of the leg can result in a pull or a tear. Such a muscle imbalance is not uncommon among runners since running tends to work out the hamstrings much more than the quadriceps.

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 the sensation a Grade 3 strain of the quadriceps. The symptoms are sudden and obvious and include a sudden sharp pain along the front of the thigh or groin an immediate swelling or bruising along with limited mobility and inability to weight bear on the injured.

In contrast, a Grade 1 quadriceps injury may feel like a twinge or ache along the front of the thigh and an athlete may even feel that he can continue playing, despite a general discomfort and tightness in the thigh.

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. Even mild pains can become chronic if they aren't treated quickly.

When to See the Doctor

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

Treatment and Recovery

For immediate relief of muscle strains and pulls, follow the R.I.C.E. treatment plan. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation are the best immediate treatment for all pulls and strains. For serious muscle strains, work with a rehab specialist to set up the appropriate return to activity plan for you.

Once activity is started again, ice the muscle after exercise to reduce any swelling. An anti-inflammatory can be helpful to reduce pain and inflammation. After applying the 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. Proper stretching of the quadriceps is essential. Stretch gently, but thoroughly. Never force a stretch. A return to activity within two or three weeks is expected.


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 and quadriceps. Consider doing stretches for runners after each workout.

Exercises for the Quadriceps

These exercises can be used to strengthen and tone your quadriceps:

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