Thigh Strain

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Man holding the inside of the thigh, possibly due to a thigh strain.

A thigh strain is an injury caused by damage to a muscle or tendon in the thigh. The damage can take the form of the muscle being stretched beyond its limit (with no tearing of the muscle or tendon). These are commonly referred to as pulled thigh muscles. In other cases, one or more of the thigh muscles or tendons may be partially torn or even completely severed.

Typical symptoms of a thigh strain are sharp initial pain in the area of the damaged muscle followed by continued pain and swelling. The injured individual may also experience contusions over the injured muscle or tendon and may have difficulty placing body weight on the injured leg.

In most cases, thigh strains are treatable at home by resting the injured thigh and keeping weight off it for a period. Ice or a cold compress can also help to ease pain  and swelling. If the thigh strain is in the most severe category (a complete severing of the muscle or tendon), surgerir the damage and reattach the muscle or tendon.

Types Of Thigh Strain

There are three muscle groups in the thigh that may be involved in a thigh strain:

  • The hamstring muscles located at the back of the thigh, which are key to leg extension and flexion movements. Strains of these muscles are known as hamstring strains;
  • The quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh, which also play a pivotal role in extending or flexing the leg. Muscle strains involving this group are known as quadricep strains.;
  • The adductor muscles, that run down the inside of the thigh and are used to bring the legs together. An injury due to overstretching or tearing of this muscle is known as an adductor strain or groin strain.

Both hamstring and quadricep strains are covered in detail on other pages of this site and these pages are linked to above. Hamstring, quadriceps and adductor strains tend to be more common than strains of other muscles. This is partially because these muscles cross both the hip and knee joints. As a result, they may be subject to greater forces than other muscle groups that cross only one joint.

Degrees Of Thigh Strain

As with most other types of muscle injuries, thigh strains can be graded as I to III depending on their severity.

  • Grade I, or mild, strains involve overstretching of the muscle fibers or tendons of the thigh, but no muscle tearing. However, the individual may still  experience contusions, swelling and tenderness of the inner thigh;
  • Grade II, or moderate, thigh strains involve partial tears to the muscles or tendons;
  • Grade III thigh strains are the most severe category. They involve a complete severing of the muscle or tendon. Fortunately, this is also the least commonly observed category of injury.

Causes Of Thigh Strains

Thigh strains are common among soccer and hockey players. They are also frequently seen in football, basketball, figure skating, tennis, baseball and a few other sports.

These injuries are probably most commonly experienced when trying to abruptly change direction. Another common cause is a sudden attempt to accelerate while sprinting. Another, albeit less common, cause is an attempt to jump that puts too much stress on the adductor tendon.

Risk factors for these injuries include the following:

  • Having experienced a previous thigh strain injury;
  • Increasing age;
  • Weak or underdeveloped hamstring, quadriceps or adductor muscles;
  • Failure to properly stretch the hamstring, quadriceps or adductor muscles.

Symptoms

The most typical symptom of a thigh strain (whether it involves the adductor, hamstring or quadriceps muscles)  is a sudden onset of severe pain during one of the activities described above (changing direction, sprinting or jumping). It is also possible for the pain of this injury to come on gradually.

The pain of an adductor strain is most commonly felt in the groin or inner thigh regions. A hamstring strain will be felt at the back of the thigh while a quadriceps strain will cause pain at the back of the thigh.

Other possible signs of a thigh strain are:

  • Contusions or swelling over the painful area of the  thigh;
  • Tenderness in the same area of the  thigh;
  • In some cases, the patient may sense a “popping” or “snapping” sound  from the thigh at the time of the injury;
  • Difficulty continuing with activity after the onset of pain. There may also be difficulty placing weight on the injured leg. The injured individual may be forced to limp.

If you are experiencing these symptoms, we suggest visiting a healthcare professional for medical advice.

Treatment

Thigh strains, whether involving the hamstring, quadriceps or adductor muscles, are usually treatable conservatively using the R.I.C.E. protocol.

A doctor will usually advise the patient to:

  • Rest the thigh muscles by refraining from activities that may place them under stress, such as running, jumping or sports activities requiring such activity. Consider using crutches for a period to avoid placing weight on the injured thigh;
  • Apply Ice or a cold compress to the injured area of the thigh. This will help to reduce pain and inflammation. You can apply the ice every 2-3 hours, for 20-30 minutes at a time. Avoid direct contact between the ice or cold compress and the skin, as this may cause tissue damage;
  • Apply Compression to the thigh with a thigh sleeve or a tensor bandage. This will help reduce any swelling that may be a factor;
  • For further control of pain, consider an over the counter pain relief medication such as aspirin. To further control both pain and swelling, consider a non steroidal anti inflammatory medication such as Advil.
  • The patient will likely be advised to avoid returning to sports activity until he or he is pain free and the normal range of motion has returned.

The patient may also be advised to work with a therapist on a program of physical therapy exercises to strengthen the thigh and groin muscles.

Surgery

If the thigh strain is a grade III injury (i.e. involving a completely severed muscle or tendon), the

conservative treatment described above is unlikely to be adequate. Instead, a surgeon will need to operate to repair the damage and reattach the severed tendon or muscle.

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