Quadriceps: Why stretching these is a must before going for a run


What are quadriceps?

A group of muscles present at the front of the thighs is called quadriceps muscles.  As the name indicates, quad means four.  Four different muscles make up the quadriceps and are located in different positions.  These four muscles are described below.  These muscles collectively are also known as quads.

  • Vastus intermedius:  This muscle is located the innermost among the quad muscles.
  • Vastus medialis:  This muscle extends from the inner portion of the thigh to the kneecap.  The strength of this muscle determines the positioning of the kneecap.
  • Vastus lateralis:  This muscle accounts for the outermost portion of the thigh.
  • Rectus femoris:  This muscle is situated between the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis.

Functions of the Quadriceps

Positioning of the kneecap and helping the leg to straighten are some of the important functions of the quads.  As discussed earlier, vastus medialis muscle plays an important role in maintaining the position of the kneecap.  A weak vastus medialis can impact the positioning of the kneecap and lead to various problems with ambulation.  Rectus femoris muscle which is one of the quads extends up to the hip joint and helps with bending of the hip joint.

Anatomy of the Quadriceps

As discussed earlier, quad means four and “ceps” means “head.”  The four muscles of the quads namely vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris originate at the pelvis called the ilium and extend till the kneecap with the help of the patella tendons.  These tendons are made up of strong connective tissues which surround the knee bones.  The quads also play a partial role in hip flexion.  The patellar ligament (tendon) connects the quads to the tibia.

Majority of the problems related to the leg are due to the overuse of the patellar ligament.  Vastus medialis and vastus lateralis attach to the back of the femur with the help of linea aspera.  The majority of the quadriceps muscles are placed vertically downwards whereas the rectus femoris crosses both the knees as well as the hip.  This helps in the flexion as well as the extension of the hip joint and knee joint.

The location of the quadriceps muscles in the thigh determines their names.  These muscles lie in three different sections namely anterior, medial, and posterior.  Rectus femoris which is a straight muscle is placed in the center of the thigh.  Vastus lateralis is located on the outside (lateral) part of the thigh.  In the same way, vastus medialis is placed in the inside part of the thigh and finally, the vastus intermedius is placed between the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis.

Injuries associated with the Quadriceps

Quads are part of the large muscle group which is responsible for various functions including running, walking, climbing stairs, etc.  All these functions generate quite a bit of force and may lead to an injury.  Some of the injuries related to the quadriceps are discussed below.

Dislocation of the kneecap

Tearing of the quadriceps muscles can lead to dislocation of the kneecap.  This type of injury is mainly associated with fall during sports.  Surgery is the only way this can be rectified followed by an extensive period of rest.  This is next followed by the application of braces and physical therapy exercises to regain strength.

Iliotibial band friction syndrome

The iliotibial band is also referred to as IT band or Maissiat’s band.  The main function of the IT band is associated with abduction, extension, and laterally rotate the hip.  It also contributes to the process of lateral knee stabilization.  Torsion of the IT band when it crosses the lateral portion of the kneecap can lead to iliotibial band friction syndrome.  People affected with this syndrome may experience weakness or tightness of the quads associated with limitation in walking and running.

Patellofemoral stress syndrome

The pain that occurs in the front of the knee and around the patella is due to this syndrome.  This syndrome is related to arthritis where the quads stop functioning properly leading to swelling and stiffness in the kneecap.  This is a result of kneecap going out of position.  The swelling and stiffness of the knee can also be associated with pain.

Paresis and paralysis

Problems related to the spinal cord can impact the functioning of the quads.  Health conditions such as paralysis and the pinched nerve can lead to weakness in the quads and may result in problems with ambulation.  This problem can be resolved when the underlying cause is rectified.

 Benefits of Healthy Quadriceps

Since the quads are involved in various functions, there are numerous benefits associated with a healthy quadriceps and these include:

  • Extending and straightening of the knees – Since the knee is one of the most important parts of the leg, it is important to have a healthy knee joint. This is achievable with healthy quads.  The positioning of the kneecap is determined with the help of quads.  The ligaments connecting the kneecap from the quads protect the knee from getting injured.
  • Shock absorption – A large amount of friction is produced when you walk or run, this shock is absorbed by the quads and protects the leg from getting injured, particularly the knee joint. The wear and tear, as well as aging and health conditions like osteoarthritis, may cause pressure on the knees.  This pressure is managed by the quads by absorbing them.
  • Helps with jumping – The quads provide the strength and power for the body to jump off the ground.
  • Since the quads extend from the hip to the knee joint, they also play a role in stabilizing the hips during flexing and extending.
  • Helps with maneuvering – They help you to maneuver quickly and change direction while walking or running.
  • Avoid falling – They provide stability to the legs so that you do not fall down when standing, running, or walking.

Side effects of Quadriceps Injuries

Loss of Function

This is considered the biggest side effect of a quadriceps injury.  As noted earlier, it is important for the quads to function properly to aid in various other activities.  You may be surprised to know that it is the quads that help you move around in the bed.  A simple rolling over or even scooting in the bed requires the help of quads.  They also help when standing up from a sitting position, walking up and down the stairs requires your quads to flex and contract appropriately.  It is the quads which prevent you from falling when walking or running.  It is now quite clear that an injury to the quads can alter various functions.

Knee pains

Overuse, arthritis, and loss of cartilage are some of the causes of inflammation in the knee which is associated with pain.  The pain may be excruciating depending on the severity of the injury.  Severe cartilage damage requires knee replacement to correct the problem.

Patellofemoral joint syndrome

This is again associated with pain in the knee which is the result of weak quads.  This syndrome can highly limit your ability to exercise, walk up and down the stairs, as well as do squatting.

Problems with posture

The distribution of strength is altered when the glutes muscle that is present behind the legs become stronger as compared to other muscle.  This occurs when people perform weighted squats without strengthening other muscles.  The ankle could experience an increased amount of spraining or twisting when the quads are weak.

Contusions

A contusion to the quads can occur when the muscle is directly involved in an injury.  This type of injury is mainly associated with a sports injury.  Contusion of the quads can lead to sharp pain, inflammation, and soreness of the quads.

How do I nurture my quadriceps?

A healthy quadriceps relies on three main factors namely strength, flexibility, and balance and proprioception.  You need to concentrate on these three aspects to improve the health of the quads.

  • Strength – Exercise involving the hip and knee simultaneously is necessary to strengthen the quads. Since the quads extend from the hip to the knee, both these joints need to be worked upon.  Knees require simple exercises whereas the advanced hip exercises are required for the quads to strengthen and function appropriately.
  • Flexibility – The quads need to be flexible enough to tolerate the wear and tear of the daily lifestyle. Towel quadriceps exercise is one of the important exercises that can make your muscles flexible.
  • Balance and proprioception – If you need to stay upright and manage your balance, you need to follow the balance and proprioception exercises. Basic exercises are helpful in preventing falls whereas advanced exercises are helpful in recuperating an injured quadriceps.

Tips for quadriceps workout

A quadriceps workout generally requires you to start with three to five minutes of stretching.  This can be followed by squats, step-ups, and lunges.  You need to incorporate some hamstring exercises to nullify any strength imbalance.  You need to provide a couple of days of rest to allow the muscles to repair itself from the wear and tear.

Workout with other muscles also should be done to avoid dominance on a particular group of muscles.  You can aim to perform 8 to 12 reps of each exercise.  Additional weight and resistance to the exercise need to be followed with stretching and holding for 30 seconds after each stretch.

Some of the quad-friendly exercises are discussed below

Strength

SquatsThese exercises are helpful in strengthening the whole leg.  Keep your feet apart at about the hip distance.  Next, put your weight on the heels and squat down as if you are sitting on a chair by keeping your body upright.  Repeat this for 15 to 20 times.

LungesKeep your feet apart at the hip distance.  Make sure you have enough space in front of you.  Move your right leg forward and lunge down.  Make sure to put maximum pressure on the heel and keep your body erect.  Step back and come back to your original position and then start with the other leg.  Repeat these steps for 15 to 20 times.

Leg PressesThis can be achieved by adding weight or resistance.  You need to lie down and bend your knees to form a 90-degree angle.  Now lift the weight with both your legs to reach 180 degrees angle.  Continue the exercise by avoiding locking of your knees.  Repeat this for 8 to 10 times.

BurpeesThis consists of four positions.  First, stand in an erect position.  Then, come to the squat position and place your hands on the ground.  Now, kick your feet backward and place your body in an extended position.  Now repeat the positions in a reverse manner to come back to your original position.  Repeat this process for 8 to 10 times.

Box JumpsKeep your feet hip distance apart.  Now, jump on a bench with your right leg and next bring your left leg to join the right leg.  Next, jump back on your right leg and return to your original position.  Repeat the same process on the left leg.  Continue this process 15 to 20 times.

Cardio

HIIT WorkoutsHIIT or high-intensity interval training consists of aggressive movements such as sprinting.  You can accomplish this exercise even on a treadmill.  Increasing your heart rate would be the main reason why you will be doing this exercise.  Follow this exercise with brief rest and repeat this exercise 8 to 10 times a day.

Walking Backwards – Again you can accomplish this either on an open field or on the treadmill.  This will help you add muscle mass to glutes as well as the quads.

CyclingCycling is considered the best exercise to make your quads strong especially when you cycle up a steep road.

Stretches

Foam RollingYou can roll on a foam mattress by lying down flat.  Continue rolling back and forth 60 to 90 seconds.

One-legged StretchYou need to stand upright.  Now, bend one leg backward and hold it with your hands and pull it towards the back, holding it for 20 to 30 second.  Repeat the same procedure with the other leg.

Precautions for injured Quads

Rest seems to be the best precaution you can take to allow your quads to heal adequately.  Quad injury may take weeks to months to heal and hence you need to avoid running or walking fast.  Once the pain becomes bearable, you can start with mild strengthening exercises.  Swimming is the best example for strengthening your quads without straining it much.  You need to also perform other strengthening exercises so as to avoid dominance on a particular muscle group.  This can be achieved by performing upper body or back strengthening with swimming.

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