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Weekend Recovery: Quadriceps Strains
In this week's Weekend Recovery, we look at quadriceps strains and how to diagnose them. The usual treatment method for light muscle injuries follows, along with the continuous mantra of "Patience, Patience, Patience..."

By SoccerViza Staff

Following last week’s article on diagnosing, treating, and recovering from groin and hip flexor strains, this week’s Weekend Recovery focuses on another common muscle injury for soccer players: Quadriceps strains.

Your quad is one of the most important muscle clusters in your body. You accelerate with it, jump with it, and kick with it. It’s a sturdy muscle, one of the strongest in your body, but occasionally it falls victim to the rigors of the game just like anything else.

Unlike with groin and hip flexor strains, it’s generally pretty easy to identify when it’s your quadriceps that has been strained. Keep in mind though, that your upper quad may be difficult to differentiate from where it connects with your hip flexor, making an injury in that area a little more difficult to diagnose.

Usually, an injury to the quad happens in the mid-thigh or closer to the knee. You may be accelerating, at full sprint already, or striking a ball for power when it happens. You will feel pain in the affected region, and you will start to notice reduced mobility from the muscle. Depending on the severity of the strain, you may not notice the reduced level of mobility until your game or training session has ended, making it a potentially dangerous injury that you can worsen after the initial incident.

What this means, is that once you feel the pain which indicates something has happened, it’s necessary for you to stop playing and evaluate yourself immediately. If you’re in a game, substitute yourself out. If you’re in a practice, make your way gingerly to the sideline.

In evaluating the severity of your injury, the first thing to do is palpate the area. This means to rub it down with pressure, feeling for inconsistencies. Find the spot where you have the most pain emanating from, and zone in on it. If you don’t feel anything unusual, it likely means that you have a grade-1 strain, which is the easiest to come back from. To go along with not feeling anything out of place, your mobility and strength will not show much of a reduction. You should still rest, apply ice, use a compression sleeve, and keep it elevated as often as possible until there is no pain left though. Remember the mantra from last week: Be patient.

A grade-2 strain will feature more pain, and palpating the area around it may reveal a defect in the muscle indicating a more severe tear of the muscle fibers. The defect will be small if it’s only a grade-2, and this is why you must immediate evaluate yourself. Once the swelling sets in, the defect may no longer be noticeable, making it possible for you to misdiagnose the severity and rush yourself back to action, exacerbating your injury.

A grade-3 strain will feature severe pain and a noticeable defect in the muscle fibers upon physical examination. You should use crutches for a high level grade-2 or grade-3 strain to insure that you are keeping your leg immobile during the first few days of recovery. A constant rotation of ice and compression is necessary to keep swelling down, and keep blood flow restricted to the area should be a top priority. This means keeping your leg elevated while you are at rest. If the pain continues and further palpation continues to reveal a defect in the muscle fibers, you should consult a physiotherapist or a doctor, as the tear could be complete and require professional attention so as to avoid permanent damage.

You should not come back to the field after a grade-2 or grade-3 strain until you are able to stretch, jump, run, and lift weights without pain. No form of rehabilitative exercises should occur without properly warming up. Test your quadriceps before performing any kind of activity; do a light, standing quadriceps stretch and be honest with yourself about levels of pain you might feel. Discomfort can be worked with, but pain means you are not ready yet.

Always remember the mantra of muscle strains: Patience. You alone know how you feel, and you alone can make the decision that will sideline you until you're ready to come back, or to get back on the field before you're ready and do more damage to yourself. 

Sources:

National Institute of Health

Sports Injury Clinic