Orthopaedic Conditons & Treatments

Muscle Strains of the Thigh, Causes and Symptoms

Muscle strains in the thigh are very common, especially for active people. Muscle strains can occur in many parts of the body but the hamstring and quadriceps muscles of the thigh are very common sights. This is due to the wide variety of movements that take place at the knee and hip joints. These injuries may range from a minor pull to a major strain with tearing of the muscle and/or nearby tendons.

A muscle strain in the thigh may occur in the adductor (inner thigh), the hamstring (rear thigh) or the quadriceps (front thigh). The adductor is responsible for pulling the legs together, while the hamstrings and quadriceps are responsible for bending and extending the leg. When these muscles are strained, it can lead to tearing of the tendons and muscle fibers, which can in turn lead to inflammation, pain, and local bleeding. Excess pressure on the thigh muscles can lead to strains, often during work tasks, sudden heavy lifting movements or sports and other athletic activities. High-speed activities are the most common muscle strain causes in the thigh, including basketball, football, hurdle jumping, long jumping, running and soccer.

Anatomy of the Thigh
The thigh is the area between the knee and pelvis, with a single, thick, strong bone (the femur) extending from the top to the bottom. A hinge joint forms at the knee, and a ball and socket joint forms at the hip. There are three subsections of the thigh, which are divided by sturdy membranes of connective tissues and rely on the femur as an axis, and which each have their own muscles and supplies of blood and nerves. These include the following strong muscle sets:

  • Adductor (medial fascial compartment)
  • Hamstring (posterior fascial compartment, responsible for flexing)
  • Quadriceps (anterior fascial compartment, responsible for extending)

Types of Muscle Strain in the Thigh
There are generally tree types of muscle strains that may occur in the thigh or in any other muscle group:

  • Grade I – Minimal muscle tearing; typically happens while stretching
  • Grade II – Somewhat more serious muscle injury with partial tearing
  • Grade III – The most serious muscle strain with complete rupturing of some of the muscle group

Causes of Muscle Strain in the Thigh
There are many possible muscle strain causes in the thigh, including improper stretching and jolting movements during high-speed activities such as basketball, football, hurdle jumping, long jumping, running and soccer. The following factors also tend to make pulling or tearing of the thigh muscles more likely:

  • Imbalanced muscles – If one of the main muscle groups in the thigh that work together (the hamstrings or the quadriceps) is stronger than the other, the weaker of the two is likely to be strained.
  • Tight muscles – Without proper, daily stretching, athletes and active people can develop tight muscles, which strain more easily.
  • Tired muscles – When the thigh muscles are fatigued, they are not able to perform their usual duties, making muscle strain in the thigh more likely.
  • Weak muscles – If your thigh muscles are not properly conditioned, they will become weaker and more easily injured during any sort of exercise or physical exertion.

Since tight, tired and weak muscles are among the most common muscle strain causes in the thigh, it is important to stay active and to warm up before exercise. Properly warming up before workouts and practices, including slow and gradual stretching, protects the muscles and increases range of motion during exercise.

Symptoms of Muscle Strain in the Thigh
There are many different muscle strain symptoms in the thigh, some of which can appear similar to other injuries and conditions, so it is important to seek expert medical assistance if you believe this type of injury has occurred. These are some of the most common muscle strain symptoms in the thigh:

  • Bruising after a thigh injury Pain while resting Pain while using specific joints or muscles in the thigh
  • Redness after a thigh injury
  • Popping or snapping in the thigh muscles
  • Swelling after a thigh injury Inability to use the thigh muscle
  • Weak muscles
  • Weak tendons

Everyone experiences muscle strains in the thigh differently, but the injury is often signified by a snapping sensation in the muscle, followed by intense pain and tenderness that comes on suddenly. Redness and bruising may appear as a result of broken blood vessels.

A specialized physician can make an accurate diagnosis after conducting a physical examination, looking into your medical history, asking specific questions and completing an assessment of the muscle strain symptoms in the thigh. X-Rays can provide additional information and rule out any related injuries such as bone fractures and other bone injuries. Some muscle strains in the thigh are easily treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation, which helps to prevent additional blood loss and swelling in the area. In some cases, the use of braces, crutches, elastic compression bandages and/or more serious treatments and rehabilitation may be necessary. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory pain relievers, analgesics and other medications can also provide relief from pain and other symptoms such as swelling and limited range of motion during the healing process.

A doctor can determine the extent of a muscle strain in the thigh, and whether or not other injuries have occurred in conjunction with the muscle or tendon strain. Orthopaedic surgeons are best qualified to provide advice on activity restriction and exercise during the healing process, in order to ensure the best possible outcome and prospects for a full recovery.

The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Trauma Services in New York treats muscle strains of the thigh as well as a broad range of conditions that affect the bones within the body.

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