What are they?
Our quadriceps (quads) muscles are located in the anterior (front) compartment of the thigh and consist of four muscles; the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Medialis and Vastus Intermedius. Quads are the primary knee extensor and play a part in flexion of the hip; making them an important group of muscles for the leg.
When do we use our quadriceps?
Our quadriceps are one of the most commonly used muscle groups on our body, activating them we stand, walk, get out of a chair, run and even walking up stairs are all done using our quads. Sports such as football, hiking, cycling, rugby rely heavily on strong quad muscles to complete the sport.
What is the relevance to the knee?
The four muscles that form the quadriceps join together just above the knee and attach to the kneecap (patella) via a tendon called the quadriceps tendon. As our quads contract, they extend (straighten) the knee. Because of the attachment, they also play a big part in stabilising the knee cap. Quite often, sore knee caps, or pain in the knee, can be caused by tight quads.
What causes stiff/tight quadriceps?
Our quad muscles can become “stiff” or “tight” through the amount of load we put through them. Repetitive movements, such as walking or cycling, or even heavy loads, such as weightlifting whereby the muscle is forced to shorten and lengthen at speed under tension, can cause the muscles to gradually become tighter in a shortened state; thus reducing length in the muscle.
Contrary to this, our quads can become tight in underuse circumstances, for example, when sitting for long periods of time. Other factors that can cause tightness in our quads are dehydration, stress, posture/misalignment, as a protective mechanism from injury or overcompensation (e.g from weak hamstrings).
Why does this sometimes cause pain?
Our quads stabilise the patella; therefore, tightness in the quads can cause irritation in the quad tendon, which in turn, can pull on the kneecap and cause it to misalign. This exposes the knee joint to greater forces and stress.
Other injuries from tight muscles?
Other injuries caused by tight quadriceps may include lower back pain, hamstring weakness and pain, hip stiffness and pain, ankle mobility issues.
Signs to look out for include:
- Pain in the quadriceps/on the front of our upper legs/thigh
- Issues with the range of movement in the knees, such as limited movement, feeling of stiffness or pain/discomfort when trying to bend or straighten the knee
- Tightness felt when moving our hips
- Noticeable muscle weakness in our upper leg
- Lower back pain
How to help tight quadriceps?
- Gentle stretching – static, dynamic, PNF stretching
- Deep tissue massages
- Heat therapy
- Exercise (hamstring strengthening)
- Using a foam roller
- Keeping hydrated
If you are unsure of any issue or pain that you have, you can reach out to our team of expert therapist for their FREE advice here.