Quadriceps muscles, or quads, are what create all that definition in your thighs which develop from activities such as kicking, running, and jumping (essentially any movement that straightens your leg, since that’s what the quads do). You can probably guess how many muscles make up this muscle group… Very good! Four!
You have the rectus femoris right in the front and center of your thigh, the vastus medialis more on the inner front of your thigh, the vastus lateralis on the outside front of your thigh, and the vastus intermedius hiding deeper in the front center of your thigh. All four muscles meet at one tendon (the quadriceps tendon) that the kneecap is fixed in, and the tendon continues down to connect to the front of the shin bone (where it is then called the patellar tendon).
Why are these muscles so important? Who is at risk of issues related to the quadriceps?
As mentioned before, any sport in which you use your legs would suffer greatly without your quads functioning properly. But did you realize how important these muscles are to your daily activities? Getting up out of a chair, walking properly, locking your knees to stand still all would be nearly impossible if your quads weren’t properly functioning. They also play a bit of a role in knee pain and lower back pain.
Have you heard of jumper’s knee? It’s another name for patellar tendonitis, an overuse injury of the knee joint. Commonly seen from jumping on hard surfaces, this issue causes inflammation of the tendon at the knee joint, and the person is likely to experience pain and swelling.
Younger athletes especially are at risk for a type of overuse injury involving the quads called Osgood-Schlatter disease (not really a disease, more of an acute inflammatory condition). In young people who are quickly still growing, the fibers of the patellar tendon pull small bits of immature bone off the shin bone. This results in pain and swelling and if not addressed, can become a serious issue for the child.
The rectus femoris (the middle-front quad muscle) attaches from the front of your pelvis, meaning it crosses the front of your hip joint. For those of us who sit a lot (guilty), this muscle gets shortened as our hips are flexed for long periods of time, and pulls your pelvis forward creating an imbalance at the hip. As we said before and will again, the body is about muscle balance and an issue here is almost guaranteed to lead to problems such as lower back issues among many others.
Having unevenly developed quads can also cause a pull on your kneecap in a direction that can contribute to grinding of your knee cap. However, this problem has more to it, so be sure to stay tuned for our glute med post coming soon to learn more about how your glutes affect your knee pain.
Be careful: All these problems associated with issues related to the quadriceps muscles can resemble other conditions or medical problems!
How can you know if my problem is actually related to my quads?
To identify the true cause of your quadriceps, back or knee issue, you really need a full assessment of all of the muscles of your lower extremity and someone to analyze your movement patterns. At Nashville Physical Therapy we have back pain specialists and specialists who can perform a Total Body Wellness Assessment and/or Running Analysis in which we can identify any weak muscles, tight muscles, joint restrictions and movement pattern issues and then provide the specific exercises needed to address the true cause of your pain. For more information on running analysis, back pain, hamstrings, and knee issues, check out some of our previous blog posts.
Other facts about the quadriceps:
· The quadriceps are innervated by the femoral nerve with root levels of L2-4
· The quadriceps are one of the largest and most powerful of muscle groups in the human body
· Having well developed quadriceps are the main contributors to a very strong and healthy-looking leg, for those of you trying to get a head start already for next summer’s beach body
· Working out the legs in general boost your growth hormone levels and alone can increase the natural growth of muscles in your upper body, even if you aren’t working the upper body muscles as much
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