Running, squatting, jumping… You need a good, strong set of quadriceps muscles to do all these activities.
But your quadriceps also help you stand and walk. Without them, you’d be hard-pressed to get around.
If you’re interested in learning more about your quadriceps, how they work, what can cause issues, and how you can strengthen them, this article has it covered.
We often talk about our quadriceps, or quads, as if it’s just one solid muscle.
But your quadriceps femoris is actually a group of four muscles located at the front of your thigh.
In fact, that’s how it got its name. Quadriceps is the Latin word for “four-headed.” Your quadriceps are some of the largest and strongest muscles in your body.
Let’s take a closer look at these four muscles in your upper leg:
- Vastus lateralis. This muscle runs down the outside of your thigh, connecting your femur to your kneecap (patella). It’s the largest of your four quadriceps muscles.
- Vastus medialis. This teardrop-shaped muscle runs along the inner part of your thigh, also connecting your femur to your kneecap.
- Vastus intermedius. As you might guess from its name, this muscle is located in between the other two vastus muscles in your thigh. It’s the deepest of the four muscles.
- Rectus femoris. This muscle originates in your hip bone and attaches to your kneecap. It also partially covers the three vastus muscles.
These four muscles work together to help you do all sorts of things that you might take for granted, like standing, walking, and running.
They keep your kneecap stable and help you maintain your standing posture. They also help you take steps when you’re walking or running.
All four muscles allow you to extend your lower leg from your knee. And your rectus femoris muscle assists in flexing your thigh at the hip.
Because you rely on your quads to do a lot of physical activities, they can be prone to injury. There’s a reason you often hear about athletes sidelined with a quad strain, tear, or even rupture.
Let’s take a closer look at some common injuries that can affect your quads.
Quadriceps tendonitis happens when the tendon that connects your quad to your kneecap becomes inflamed.
Overuse injuries like this often affect athletes and other active people. But any type of movement that you do over and over could cause this type of inflammation.
So how do you know if you’ve developed quadriceps tendonitis?
You typically start to experience pain just above your kneecap. It may become a little hard to move normally, too. Activity can sometimes make it worse, but so can sitting down for too long.
Other possible symptoms that you may notice around the affected area include:
Treatment of tendonitis
Treatment for this type of injury often involves:
- treating according to the RICE principle, which stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation
- doing physical therapy or wearing a knee brace to support your knee
- doing exercises, especially those that target your hamstrings, which help support your knee tendons
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to temporarily reduce pain
- undergoing surgery in very severe cases
If you strain or pull your quad from running or another activity, you’ve stretched your muscle beyond its normal limit.
It might just cause a dull ache. But a more severe strain can cause pain and swelling, and it could limit how much you can move your leg.
Treatment of muscle strains
Treatment for muscle strains includes:
If you’ve ever suffered a muscle cramp in your thigh, you know the feeling. The muscle tightens and shortens, causing a knot of pain to develop in your quadriceps.
Sometimes the cramp arrives without warning, and the pain makes your leg seize up.
A few common causes of muscle cramps in your thigh include:
- muscle fatigue
- poor circulation
- certain medical conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, vascular disease, and thyroid disorders
- some medications
Treatment of muscle cramps
You can try a variety of remedies to relieve the pain, including:
- massaging or stretching the muscle
- applying a heating pad
- drinking water
If something compresses the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which supplies sensation to your outer thigh, it can cause a condition known as meralgia paresthetica.
Symptoms of this condition include:
- a burning sensation
It doesn’t affect your ability to use your legs, though.
Weight gain is a common cause of meralgia parasthetica. Tight clothes can also put enough pressure on the nerve to cut off normal sensation.
Treatment of meralgia paresthetica
Depending on the cause, treatment may be relatively simple. Losing a few pounds or wearing loose-fitting clothes can solve the problem.
However, if you have diabetes or a recent injury, you may experience some nerve damage. In this case, treatment may involve medication or surgery.
Strengthening your quads can go a long way toward keeping them strong and healthy. Experts typically recommend that you start slow and build up.
Using the proper form also matters for doing quad exercises. That’s why it’s best to learn how to do these exercises correctly, either by working with a certified personal trainer or carefully following exercise instructions.
Squats challenge and strengthen a number of muscles in your lower body, including your quadriceps.
Two other key advantages to doing squats: They don’t require any special equipment, and you can do them anywhere.
To do this exercise:
- Start off with your feet a little wider than hips-width apart.
- Shift your weight onto your heels as you slowly push your hips back into a sitting position. Keep your chest up and your abdominal muscles engaged as you do this movement.
- Continue to lower your hips until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor. You should feel some tightness in your thighs and glutes.
- Briefly pause with your knees positioned over, but not beyond, your toes.
- Breathe out and push up to the starting position.
- Repeat this exercise 10 to 12 times.
Like squats, lunges can help you strengthen the muscles in your lower body, including your quads, hamstrings, and calf muscles.
There are several variations you can try, including forward lunges, side lunges, and walking lunges.
To do a forward lunge:
- Start by standing with your feet about hips-width apart.
- Step forward with one foot so that the front leg is at a 90-degree angle and your front knee is positioned over, but not beyond, your toes. Keep your rear knee parallel to the ground.
- Then move your front foot back to the starting position.
- Do 10 to 12 reps for each leg.
You’ll need some equipment, like a set of kettlebells or a barbell with removable weights, for this quad-building exercise.
When you do deadlifts, you’re strengthening your quads, your gluteal muscles, and the muscles in your back.
To do this exercise:
- Stand with your feet shoulders-width apart, with two kettlebells on the floor, just on the outside of each foot.
- Engage your abdominal muscles as you bend your knees and push your hips backward.
- Lower your hips until your hands reach the kettlebell handles.
- Grip the kettlebells firmly, keeping your arms and back straight.
- Holding the kettlebell handles, slowly raise your body until you’re standing straight.
- Pause and inhale before lowering your body until the kettlebells touch the ground, then stand up again, holding the kettlebells.
- Repeat the exercise 6 to 10 times. You can make this exercise more challenging by lifting heavier weights.
Experts sometimes disagree about how much stretching and what type of stretching is really necessary before running or doing other types of exercise.
But doing a few gentle stretching exercises before and after exercising may help you loosen up your muscles and increase your range of motion.
One to try is the basic quad stretch:
- Stand on one leg. You can hold on to a chair or the wall for support.
- Raise your other foot behind you, with your leg bent at the knee.
- Try to touch your foot to your buttock.
- Hold for a few seconds, then release your foot back to the ground.
Another good quad stretch is the kneeling stretch. To do this exercise:
- Kneel on one knee and lean out over it, pushing your knee out over your foot.
- Switch legs and repeat on the other side.
Your quadriceps femoris are among the largest and strongest muscles in your body. Each quad is a group of four muscles located at the front of your thigh.
These four muscles work together to help you stand, walk, run, and move around with ease. They also keep your kneecap stable.
Because you rely on your quads to do many types of activities, they can be prone to injury.
Some of the most common injuries include tendonitis, muscle strains, cramps, and nerve damage.
Gentle stretching and some strength-building exercises can help you keep your quads in good shape and minimize the likelihood of injury.