What is a thigh or calf strain?

A thigh or calf strain occurs when a muscle or tendon is torn or stretched. The tendons are fibrous cords that connect muscles to bones.    

A thigh strain is an injury where the muscles in the quadriceps (front of the leg), hamstrings (back of the leg) or abductors (inside of the leg) become overstretched or torn.

A calf strain is a tear of the muscles in the back of the lower leg (calf area).

Causes of a thigh or calf strain

Causes of thigh strain

  • Muscle fatigue, imbalances or tightness
  • Incorrect exercising techniques
  • Insufficient warm-up before exercising

Causes of calf strain

Calf strains typically occur from sudden pushing off or overstretching the calf muscles. Quick changes of direction or jumping can also cause calf strains or sprains.

Risk factors for thigh or calf strain

Risk factors for thigh strain

Risk factors for thigh strain include:

  • Previous thigh injuries — people who have had previous thigh strains are at higher risk of suffering from a new thigh strain.
  • People with tight quad or hamstring muscles
  • People who do not follow proper exercising protocol
  • Increasing exercise routines too quickly

Risk factors for calf strain

Risk factors for a calf strain include:

  • Age — as a person ages, they are more likely to suffer from a calf strain.
  • Medical history — history of previous calf strains or lower leg injuries increases the likelihood of suffering another calf injury.
  • Tight muscles — people who have tighter muscles and exercise vigorously are at a higher risk for suffering from a calf injury.

Symptoms of thigh or calf strain

Symptoms of thigh strain

Symptoms of a thigh strain include:

A pulling or tugging type pain is the most common symptom of a thigh strain. You may also feel pain when engaging the muscles in the thigh such as walking, running or going up or down stairs.

Other symptoms of thigh injury include:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness in the thigh
  • Pop or snapping sensation at the time of injury (for more severe tears or ruptures)

Symptoms of calf strain

Symptoms of a calf strain include:

  • Sudden sharp pain in the back of the lower leg
  • Tenderness in the calf
  • Swelling or bruising

Diagnosis of a thigh or calf strain

Diagnosis of thigh strain

A thigh strain will be diagnosed in a physical exam by your primary care provider. If your physician needs further assessment, he or she may order an ultrasound or MRI to confirm the diagnosis.

Diagnosis of calf strain

A calf strain can be diagnosed in a full medical exam with your physician. He or she will take a full medical history as well as determine how the injury occurred.

Although advanced imaging is not necessary to diagnose a calf strain, your doctor may order an x-ray or MRI to rule out other calf or lower leg injuries.

Treatments for a thigh or calf strain

Treatments for thigh strain

Most thigh strains can be treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation in combination with anti-inflammatory medications. As the pain subsides, physical therapy can be added to the treatment regimen to improve strength and range of motion.

Treatments for calf strain

Most patients with calf strains can be treated with home therapy that includes rest, ice, compression and elevation in combination with anti-inflammatory medications. Applying a cold therapy for 10 to 15 minutes each hour can also help stop internal bleeding.

If the calf strain does not heal with conservative care, seek additional treatment from your doctor. Your provider may prescribe a compression brace, electrotherapy and physical therapy to rehabilitate the injured calf.

Physical therapy and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy are often used to treat thigh or calf strains.

  • Physical therapy — goal of physical therapy for a calf strain is to strengthen the thigh or calf to enable patients to return to normal activity.
  • PRP therapy — during procedure, a blood sample is taken from the patient, platelets are separated out and then injected back into the affected area to expedite healing.

Recovery from a thigh or calf strain

Recovery from thigh strain

Patients who suffer from thigh strains can typically return to their normal activity with a few weeks to a couple months.

It is imperative you work closely with your physician before resuming activity in order to prevent future injury to the quad or hamstring.

Recovery from calf strain

Most patients who suffer from calf injuries can resume their normal activity level within a few weeks to a couple months.

It is essential to work closely with your physician to determine if the calf is at full strength before returning to the activity that caused the injury.

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