Sports Medicine

Our Specialties

Thigh Muscle Strain


The thigh has three sets of strong muscles: the hamstring muscles in the back of the thigh, the quadriceps muscles in the front, and the adductor (groin) muscles on the inside. The quadriceps and hamstring muscles work together to straighten (extend) and bend (flex) the leg. The adductor muscles pull the legs together. The hamstring and quadriceps muscle groups are particularly at risk for muscle strains because they cross both the hip and knee joints. These muscles are used for high—speed activities, such as track and field events (running, hurdles, long jump), football, basketball, and soccer.


A muscle strain (muscle pull or tear) is a common injury, particularly among people who participate in sports. Muscle strains usually happen when a muscle is stretched beyond its limit, tearing the muscle fibers. They frequently occur near the point where the muscle joins the tough, fibrous connective tissue of the tendon. A similar injury occurs if there is a direct blow to the muscle. Muscle strains are graded according to their severity. Grade 1 is mild and usually heals readily. Grade 3 is a severe tear of the muscle that may take months to heal.


A muscle strain in the thigh causes sudden pain that can be quite severe. Someone experiencing a muscle strain in the thigh frequently describes a popping or snapping sensation as the muscle tears. The area around the injury may be tender to the touch, with visible bruising if blood vessels are also broken. Weakness, swelling, inflammation and cramping are also common signs of a strain.

Risk Factors

Common factors that can make it more likely for you to experience a muscle strain include:

  • Muscle fatigue—Fatigue reduces the energy-absorbing capabilities of muscle, making them more susceptible to injury.
  • Muscle imbalance—When one muscle group is much stronger than its opposing muscle group, the imbalance can lead to a strain. This frequently happens with the hamstring muscles because the quadriceps muscles at the front of the thigh are usually more powerful. During high-speed activities, the hamstring may become fatigued more quickly than the quadriceps, leading to a strain.
  • Muscle tightness—Tight muscles are vulnerable to strain. Athletes should follow a year-round program of daily stretching exercises.
  • Poor conditioning—If your muscles are weak, they are less able to cope with the stress of exercise and are more likely to be injured.


During the physical examination, your doctor will examine the injured area for tenderness or bruising, and you may be asked to bend or straighten your knee or hip. An X-ray may also be needed if there is a possible fracture or other injury to the phone.


Once a muscle strain occurs, the muscle is vulnerable to reinjury; therefore, it is important to let the muscle heal properly and to follow instructions carefully. Your doctor may recommend a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin or another analgesic for pain relief. Rest, ice, compression (using a bandage), and elevation—or R.I.C.E., as the protocol is often referred to—are effective for most sports-related injuries.

  • Rest—Take a break from the activity that caused the strain. Your doctor may recommend that you use crutches to avoid putting weight on your leg.
  • Ice—Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Compression—To prevent additional swelling and blood loss, wear an elastic compression bandage.
  • Elevation—To reduce swelling, recline and prop your leg up while resting, so that it is higher than your heart.
  • Physical therapy—As pain and swelling subside, physical therapy will help improve range of motion and strength. Waiting until the muscle is at full strength and pain-free before returning to sports will help prevent additional injury.


A proper warm-up helps to protect your muscles against strain by increasing range of motion and reducing stiffness. Warm up before any exercise session or sports activity, including practice, by stretching slowly and gradually, holding each stretch to give the muscle time to respond and lengthen. Condition your muscles with a regular program of exercises based on your age and activity level.


Be sure to take as much time as needed to let your muscle heal before returning to sports. Wait until your strength and flexibility return to preinjury levels. This could take anywhere from 10 days to three weeks for a mild strain, and up to six months for a severe strain.