If you’ve pulled your quad, these stretches and exercises can help boost healing by strengthening surrounding muscles and improving range of motion. In this article we will show you some of the best movements for a pulled quad muscle. You can try these at home or with your physical therapist.
Start with Pulled Quad Stretches
Gentle stretches that address an injured quad muscle and surrounding tissues improve range of motion and don’t aggravate your symptoms further. Below you’ll find stretches that focus on all four quadricep muscles(rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius).
The rectus femoris crosses both the hip joint and the knee joint, making it more likely to be injured in comparison to the other three muscles. Since the rectus femoris crosses the hip joint, it is classified as both a knee extensor and hip flexor.
This will vary depending on your activity level, preferences, and the severity of your injury. If your muscle strain is severe, you may need to take a full period of rest before starting any specific stretches.
Keep in mind that your symptoms should stay the same or even slightly improve with each round of stretching. How you’re feeling will determine when you’re ready to progress.
Deep Quad Stretch
This unconventional stretch is a great way to address more than one potentially tight area at once. Both the quads and the hip flexors (and muscles that do both like the rectus femoris), can get tight with an injury or cause an injury.
Lie on your back with feet slightly wider than hip width
Rotate to one side while keeping your mid-back and shoulders on the floor
For the hip closest to the ground, your knee should be touching the ground if possible
For the hip closer to the ceiling, you should feel a stretch in the hip and down the thigh, depending on where you are most tight
Relax and hold for 30+ seconds, focusing on deep breathing
Tighten the abs as you lift your legs and switch to the opposite side
Repeat for 2 to 3 sets on each leg
Make sure not to arch your low back and never force rotation in your spine if it causes back pain
Kneeling Lunge Stretch: Hip Flexors
Tightness in the hip flexor muscle groups can lead to imbalance and poor coordination of the lower leg muscles, particularly the quads. Keeping these anterior areas flexible and balanced with a hip flexor stretch are important for preventing and managing leg injuries.
Get in a half-kneeling position on the floor, ideally on a softer surface to avoid knee discomfort for the back leg
The leg with the knee on the ground behind you is the one that you will be targeting for the stretch
The front foot should be flat on the ground with the heel aligned directly under your bent knee
Gently shift your weight forward as you bend the front knee and extend the back hip
Continue shifting until a strong stretch is felt in the front hip and thigh region of the back leg
Hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each leg while focusing on staying relaxed and breathing deeply
Avoiding arching the low back by keeping the abs tight
If you are having trouble tolerating pressure through your back knee, you can also try this stretch in standing
Classic Standing Quadriceps Stretch
This basic stretch is one of the most commonly seen thigh stretches that can be done practically anywhere for relief from quad stiffness.
If needed, stand near a wall, chair, or counter for balance
Shift your weight away from the leg you will be stretching
Keep your thigh relaxed as you bend the knee and grab the top of your foot with your hand (if stretching your left side, use your left hand- and visa versa)
Use your hand to gently guide your knee into a deeper bend until you feel a stretch in the front of the thigh
Focus on good mechanics by keeping the thigh perpendicular to the ground, preventing arching of the low back, and avoiding excessive leaning of your trunk to one side
Hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets on each side
Another option for stretching the quad muscles includes lying on your stomach with a stretch strap or lying on your side to achieve a similar position
Foam Roller: Quads
While using a foam roller isn’t specifically a stretch, it can promote flexibility, pain relief, and blood flow just like a stretch. It can be a great warm up or cool down tool depending on your needs.
Grab your foam roller and lie on the ground
Lie on the foam roller so that the front of both your thighs are touching it and your stomach is facing the ground
Prop yourself on your elbows as you roll up and down the foam roller along the front of the quads, avoiding any direct pressure on the knees or hip bones themselves
Slowly roll up and down while focusing on staying relaxed
If you find a particularly sore area, stop and hold pressure on the spot while gently bending and straightening your knee
Repeat the movement, typically 15+ times, until you start to feel a release of muscle tension and get pain relief
Continue for 1 to 5 minutes
Apply pressure to any other sore muscles in the legs as needed too
Best Exercises for a Pulled Quad
Start slowly with strengthening exercises that focus on restoring function to the quad. When cleared, start with these low impact, weight free movements. From there you can gradually build back into weight bearing activities.
Quad Set (Isometrics)
Using your quadriceps muscles without moving the knee or hip joint can be easier to tolerate following an injury. This exercise can help you focus on properly activating the muscle before progressing to more complicated moves.
Long sit on the floor or a bed with the leg you want to work straight out in front of you
Grab a small hand towel and roll it up to place under your knee as a target
Push the back of your knee down into the towel roll as you tighten up the front of the thigh (you should be able to visualize these muscle tightening if you’re wearing shorts)
Hold your muscles tight for up to 5 seconds before relaxing
Repeat 10 to 15 times for 2 to 3 sets on each leg
Progress hold time as tolerated
Straight Leg Raise
This exercise targets the quadricep muscles in addition to the other hip flexor muscles. It is also great practice for coordinating both leg and core strength at once.
Lie on your side with the leg you want to strengthen out straight and on top, the other leg will have the knee slightly bent
Tighten the abs and the front of the thigh of your straight leg
Keeping the leg straight, lift your entire leg off the floor and up toward the ceiling
Continue lifting as high as you can tolerate, or until your thigh is parallel with the opposite thigh
Then, return the leg slowly to the starting position and repeat on the other side
Continue for 10 to 15 repetitions for 2-3 sets
To progress, hold for 5 to 10 seconds at the top each repetition or add ankle weights
Additionally, consider doing leg lifts on your back and stomach to get all of the thigh/hip muscles working and balanced
Long Arc Quad
Active knee range of motion in sitting is a simple yet effective way to directly target the quad muscles. Plus, you can do it anywhere such as at your desk while working or sitting on your couch watching TV at the end of the day.
Sit comfortably in a chair with good posture (upright spine, no slouching or aching in the lower back) with both feet flat on the floor approximately hip width apart
Tighten the top of your thigh as you straighten into knee extension and lift your foot up toward the ceiling
Ensure that your thigh stays steady and doesn’t lift up toward the ceiling so that you can specifically target the quads
Lift as high as you can comfortably go and hold for 3 to 5 seconds
Return slowly to the starting position
Repeat 10 to 15 times on one leg before switching to the other
Continue for 2 to 3 sets total on each leg
To progress, add ankle weights, increase hold time, or tie a resistance band around your ankle for resistance with extension
Now that you have three basic quad strengthening moves to get you started, it’s time to review some options for when you’re ready to progress to more functional based exercise.
Place one foot on the step and lift yourself up until the other foot is on top of the the step too
Tighten the front of your thigh as you push upward and avoid excessive forward or sideways leaning
For optimal mechanics, keep the pelvis level (no dropping OR hiking) and knee aligned over the toes (no collapsing inward)
Return to your position on the floor with the opposite leg leading (i.e. right foot up and left foot up, then left leg/foot down and right foot down)
Repeat 10 to 20 times on one leg before switching
Complete 2 to 3 sets on each leg
To progress increase your step size or add weights as tolerated
Additionally, you can do front and lateral steps as well to further challenge your quad strength and knee stability
A wall sit is a great full body strengthener that boosts your quad strength, core strength, and overall endurance.
Start by standing with your feet slightly wider than hip width and approximately 12 inches from the wall (move them further away if you find your knees are going past your toes)
Lean against the wall while keeping an upright posture with the entire back and shoulders touching
Squat as low as you can without pain and while keeping good form
Hold for 30+ seconds for 2 to 3 sets while focusing on deep breathing
To progress, increase your hold time, add an exercise ball behind your back, or hold weights to make it more difficult
Once you have mastered these two higher level exercises, you can gradually build to plyometric moves that will help you return to your favorite activities or sport too. This can include jumping, deep squats, lunges, kicking, and more.
Exercises to Avoid
What exercises you need to avoid with a pulled quad will depend on the severity and what stage of the recovery process you are currently in.
Initially, it is usually best to avoid any strength exercise that directly targets the quads, such as squatting and jumping.
A basic rule of thumb to follow is this: if a certain movement caused your injury in the first place or it makes it feel worse, then you should avoid it until you have healed more.
Tips for Rehabbing a Pulled Quad Muscle
You now have a great collection of rehab exercises to get started with following a quad strain. To optimize your outcomes, keep these additional tips in mind:
Warm up your legs with gentle movement and stretches prior to any strengthening
Use tools to make your stretches and exercise easier, such as a stretch strap, foam roller, exercise ball, resistance band, and more
Use lower body pain relieving modalities for home quad treatment as needed, both before and after exercise, such as an ice pack, self-massage, or electrical stimulation
Take care of your general health for the best results, such as keeping a nutrient dense diet, getting enough sleep, proper stress management, and more
A pulled quad will force you to slow down, but it doesn’t have to be forever with the right attention to exercise and recovery. A balanced exercise program can help get back to your favorite activities. Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance from your doctor or physical therapist and if symptoms get worse, seek further medical advice as soon as possible.
JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.
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