Strained Quad? Get Relief With These PT-Approved Tips and Exercises

Learn common causes of quad strain and how to treat it at home, especially with exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Nov 16, 2023
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The powerhouse muscles on the front of your thighs are called quadriceps, also known as quads. Your quadriceps are important for helping flex your hips and straighten your knees, and you use them to walk, run, climb stairs, and squat. In other words, your quads are integral to pretty much every type of movement. If your quad gets pulled to the point that causes a microtear in the muscle, this results in an injury called a strain. While a quad strain can be uncomfortable and interfere with your daily activities, this injury usually heals on its own over time. It might sound counterintuitive, but one of the most important ways to address (and prevent) a quad strain is physical activity. 

Read on to learn more about possible causes of a quad strain, along with how you can treat and prevent reinjury in the future — especially with exercises recommended by our Hinge Health physical therapists. 

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Kimbrough is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is a Quad Strain? 

A quad strain is a “pulled” muscle in your quadriceps. “A strain happens when you extend or stretch a muscle to the point that causes a tear,” says Mary Kimbrough, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. 

Quad Strain: A Hinge Health Perspective

Quad strains happen when the quad muscle is pulled and tears. And while hearing that you’ve “torn” something in your body can sound alarming, your muscles — especially the big muscle groups in your legs — are very resilient and designed to recover from these kinds of issues that naturally can happen in the course of everyday activities or during exercise.

If you’re reluctant to move because you think you’ll cause more pain or injury, know this: Movement is often the fastest way to healing. As our Hinge Health care team says, movement is medicine. The reason: You want your quads to remain flexible and stretched to prevent the muscle tightness that can lead to a quad strain. In order to do that, you need to engage in exercises that support your healing and strengthen the quad to help prevent future injury.

Symptoms of a Quad Strain

Quad strains can range in severity and cause a variety of symptoms, including: 

  • Pain and tenderness. After you injure your quad, you may feel sharp pain in the front of your thigh. You may even hear a popping sound immediately after the injury occurs, indicating a pulled muscle.

  • Bruising and swelling. Quad strains can also cause swelling, bruising, and soreness in the days after the injury. 

  • Difficulty with movement. Depending on the severity of your quad strain, it may be difficult for you to flex your hip or straighten your knees.

Most of the time, Dr. Kimbrough says, a quad strain resolves on its own. Movement, especially exercises recommended by a physical therapist (like the ones below), can help control quad strain symptoms and even help the strain heal. 

Quad Strain: Common Causes

A quad strain is caused by a pulled muscle in your quadriceps. Here are some of the most common reasons you might experience a quad strain: 

  • Inadequate warmups. Without warming up, your muscles may be tight and rigid, which can increase the chance of straining any muscle, including your quad. Dr. Kimbrough recommends dynamic warmups, or warmups that focus on taking joints or muscles through their full range of motion. 

  • Lack of muscle strength. If you just started an exercise routine, or you’re recovering from an injury, your quad muscles may need more time to handle certain activities. If you do more than your quad is ready for, you may strain it. Building quad strength over time can help reduce the risk of a quad strain.

  • Muscle imbalance. Differences in muscle strength — for example, between quadriceps, or between your quads and your hamstrings — can make muscle coordination difficult when you’re physically active, which can result in a quad strain. 

Treatment Options

At-home treatments and routine tweaks can go a long way in helping your strained quad heal and restoring your mobility. Consider any of the below treatment options for a quad strain: 

  • Move your body — carefully. Right after your injury, you may not feel like exercising a ton. While it’s a good idea to scale back for a day or two, don’t avoid movement altogether. Instead, Dr. Kimbrough recommends gradually increasing physical exercise while listening to your body for signs to rest (for example, sharp or shooting pain).

  • Address swelling. A quad strain may cause the front of your thigh to swell. Elevating your leg above your heart by propping it on pillows can help reduce swelling. A compression wrap or sleeve can also help reduce swelling, says Dr. Kimbrough.

  • Apply a cold pack. Cold packs can reduce swelling and inflammation. Applying one for 20-30 minutes a few times a day may reduce your symptoms and help healing. Be sure to cover the ice pack so you don’t apply it directly to your skin.

  • Work with a PT. Targeted exercise is a great way to help your quad strain heal and strengthen your muscles to prevent strains in the future. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.

Exercises for Quad Strain Relief

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Mini Squat
  • Seated Knee Flexion
  • Forward Step Up

While you may not necessarily feel like moving your body after a quad strain, movement is an essential part of helping your body heal. A physical therapist can help recommend exercises that will promote healing for your specific injury and offer tips on how to prevent future strains. The above exercises recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists are a great place to start. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

Quad Strain Prevention

Quad strains are more likely to happen when you're exercising or doing something that may overexert your body, like housework. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid any particular activity. Instead, you can focus on making changes to your routine to reduce your risk of a quad strain. 

  • Warm up properly. Tight muscles are more susceptible to a strain if they’re pulled to the point of tearing. Before you start exercising or doing any sort of strenuous activity, make sure you always warm up. Dr. Kimbrough recommends dynamic moves, including ones that engage the quad muscles, to prevent injury.

  • Drink up. It sounds simple, but making sure you’re drinking enough water before, during, and after activity can help keep your muscles more elastic.

  • Find your movement sweet spot. In order to strengthen your muscles, you have to push beyond your comfort zone. The key is to listen to your body and find the challenge point, or sweet spot, that allows you to get stronger without risking pain or injury. 

PT Tip: Stay Hydrated

Hydration is an important part of overall health — and it can help prevent injuries, like muscle strains. “Drinking enough water helps keep muscles elastic, and elastic muscles are less likely to tear,” says Dr. Kimbrough. Along with drinking plenty of water before, during, and after physical activity, keep a bottle of water at your desk during the day. 

How Hinge Health Can Help You 

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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  1. Kary, J. M. (2010). Diagnosis and management of quadriceps strains and contusions. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 3(1-4), 26–31. doi:10.1007/s12178-010-9064-5

  2. Pietsch, S., & Pizzari, T. (2022). Risk Factors for Quadriceps Muscle Strain Injuries in Sport: A Systematic Review. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 52(6), 389–400. doi:10.2519/jospt.2022.10870

  3. Von Fange, T. J. July 19, 2022. Quadriceps muscle and tendon injuries. UpToDate.