The quadriceps are a group of four muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius and vastus medialis) located on the front of the thigh. The rectus femoris originates in the pelvis and attaches to the femur. The vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius originate from the femur and insert on the patella, while the vastus medialis originates from the femur and tibia and inserts on the patella.
This muscle group is one of the most important in the human body, as it plays a key role in stability, balance and the ability to walk, run and jump. This makes its function essential for many physical activities.
What are its functions?
As physiotherapists, it is important to know the functions of these muscles in order to design exercises and treatments that help keep patients strong and healthy. Here are some of their main functions:
- Knee extension: The most well-known and obvious is knee extension, that is the outward stretching of the leg. This movement is mainly produced by the contraction of the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis.
- Hip flexion: The rectus femoris also plays an important role in hip flexion, which occurs when the leg is lifted towards the torso.
- Knee stabilisation: They are also essential for maintaining knee stability during physical activity. By contracting, these muscles help keep the kneecap in place and prevent injury.
- Controlling the rate of descent: When descending a staircase or going down a slope, these muscles play an important role in controlling the rate of descent. By contracting in a controlled manner, these muscles help cushion the impact and prevent injury.
- Propulsion: Finally, they play a role in helping to propel the body forward during running and similar movements. By contracting, these muscles propel the body forward and help maintain speed.
Professionals can assess the strength and function of these muscles using strength tests, such as the quadriceps strength test, and functional tests, such as walking and running ability.
What are the main injuries?
Injuries to this area can range from a simple muscle strain to more serious muscle tears. Here are some types of injuries that can happen:
- Muscle strain: This injury is common in sports that require sudden changes of direction, such as football. A muscle strain occurs when the muscle is overstretched and tears in the muscle fibres.
- Contusion: Also known as a muscle bruise, a contusion occurs when there is a direct blow to the muscle. This can cause pain, swelling and bruising.
- Muscle tear: This is a more serious injury where there is a tear in the muscle fibres. This can occur as a result of muscle strain or overexertion.
- Tendinopathy: This occurs when the tendon that attaches the quadriceps muscles to the knee bone becomes inflamed or damaged. This can cause pain and stiffness in the affected area.
As physiotherapists, it is essential to have a thorough understanding of injuries and know how to treat them properly. If you have patients with these types of injuries, be sure to work in collaboration with their doctor to develop a comprehensive treatment plan to help them recover effectively and safely. Finally, always remember to encourage your patients to take preventative measures to avoid injury in the future.
Exercises to work with patients
It is important to strengthen the quadriceps to prevent injury and improve stability and mobility in the legs. Here are some quadriceps exercises that can be very useful in rehabilitation and muscle strengthening:
- Squats: Squats are an excellent exercise to strengthen this muscle group. The patient should stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then slowly lower their body downwards, keeping their heels on the floor and knees in line with their toes.
- Leg lifts: Leg lifts are an isolation exercise that specifically targets the quadriceps. To perform it, the patient has to lie face down and slowly lift one leg towards the ceiling, keeping the knee straight.
- Bridges: Bridges are an exercise that works the hip and gluteal muscles, as well as the quadriceps. The procedure starts by lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor, and continues by slowly lifting your hips towards the ceiling.
- Lunges: To perform this, step forward with one leg and lower your body until your back knee touches the floor. Then lift and repeat with the other leg.
- Straight leg raises: The patient will have to lie on his back and raise one leg straight up towards the ceiling, keeping the other leg on the floor. Afterwards, the patient should slowly lower the leg towards the floor and repeat with the other leg.
- Leg press: This is a gym machine used to work the quadriceps. If the patient does not have access to it, this exercise can be done at home using resistance bands or weights.
- Box jumps: This is an excellent exercise both to strengthen the quadriceps and to improve power and explosiveness. It requires the patient to jump on a box or platform of moderate height, landing softly with feet shoulder-width apart.
It is essential that a physiotherapist supervises and adapts the exercises according to the condition, needs, abilities and specific goals of each person.
The quadriceps are a group of four large muscles in the front of the thigh that are essential for knee stability and movement. Physiotherapists can work with their patients to keep the quadriceps in good condition, which can help prevent injury and improve performance in physical activities.
On the other hand, common quadriceps injuries include muscle strains, muscle fibre tears and tendinopathies. These can be caused by overuse, trauma and muscle imbalances.