What's the largest and most powerful muscle in the body? Sports enthusiasts know the answer to that question; it's the one they use the most - the quadriceps muscle.
It's that four-part muscle in the front of your thigh, the one you rely on for the running sports. It gives you the push off, the stretch and glide movement and the control on impact.
Because it is used so often during sports competition, the muscle can be the one that is the most susceptible to injury. Adequate warm-up for this large muscle area is a must for prevention of quadriceps strain or tear. There are two types of sports that seem to a avoid strain or tearing to the quad area and they are ice skating and bicycling. The leg is usually slightly flexed in these sports during the weight bearing portion of the leg movements. Thus a slight softening bend to the leg puts less pressure on the quadriceps and helps prevent the muscle for overextension and a possible tear.
You'll know immediately if you have overworked your thigh. You will lose the ability to bend your knee. And the worse the strain or tear, the more the limitation of movement.
A Charley Horse, or muscle spasm in the quadriceps area, can take a player off the field immediately and keep him off for an extended period of time. The muscle tightens and then is hit sharply creating a sudden reflect spasm that releases very slowly. Whether soccer, football, basketball or racket sports, the quadriceps are the key to successful play. Putting yourself back together after a muscle strain or pull of the quadriceps area may take six to eight weeks. The initial use of the RICE treatment with rest, ice, compression and elevation and a trip to your doctor can hasten your return to sports, but too often the return is too soon and reinjury occurs. I haven't met a sports type yet who has a lot of patience for waiting out the healing period on any injury.
When you retrain with strength conditioning for a quadriceps injury, go slow, use resistance exercises to build the area first. Bicycling, water exercise, or any form of isokinetic movements will help strengthen without full weight bearing conditioning for the first six to eight weeks.
Prevention and proper warm-up for the legs and keeping those legs warm during time out periods is essential. Also, something you don't consider is the importance of ease. Learn to control your impact movements. Lunging, wobbling and flopping add up to lack of body control. A little ease in movement can be an important injury prevention.
Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and for the American Lung Association.