The rectus femoris is a very busy muscle. Not only is the muscle one of the four heads of the quadriceps muscle group responsible for extending the knee, it also does work in flexing the hip.
This dual responsibility increases the likelihood of injury to the muscle as either a hyper extension of the knee or hyper flexion of the hip could result in the same tear of varying degrees.
Fatigue and overuse are also common in this muscle for this reason.
In order to learn how to fix a damaged rectus femoris, it is important to first learn about the nature of the muscle in regard to its location as well as how it is able to activate two different parts of the lower body.
Structure of the Rectus Femoris
The rectus femoris can be found smack dab in the middle of the thigh. This long, spindle-shaped muscle inserts itself in the base of the patella or kneecap where it attaches via the quadriceps tendon.
It originates near the hip bone at two distinct areas including the acetabulum and the iliac spine.
The acetabulum is a flattened surface of the pelvis. The iliac spine is a bony projection that acts as an offshoot of the ilium, the butterfly wing-shaped bone that you most often think of when you think of the hip bone.
Function of the Rectus Femoris
The multitasking muscle is both a weak hip flexor and knee extensor due to its inability to activate both areas of the body at the same time.
Whenever it is activated to extend the knee, it is unable to do work on the hip. While flexing the hip, it cannot work to extend the knee. Despite this setback, the rectus femoris will still do what it is asked of while in proper position to do so.
Orientation of the body can also have an effect on what the muscle is capable of performing while in a given position.
For example, if you are sitting down, the rectus femoris will be unable to extend the knee as the act prevents it from activating and instead it must take a backseat to the other three muscle heads if the quadriceps.
Rectus Femoris Complications and Injuries
Overuse and repetitive micro-trauma are the main causes of rectus femoris damage. When the workload put on the muscle becomes too great, its individual muscle fibers can begin to fray and break off—resulting in a strain.
There are three separate degrees of muscle and tendon strain based on the severity of the tear in terms of the amount of fibers torn.
- 1st Degree: A few frayed muscle fibers are damaged and torn, which can cause some pain, but can also heal fairly quickly when given time to heal. If the same demands are put onto the muscle without a chance to take an extended breather, more and more muscle fibers can begin to tear. This will soon upgrade that 1st degree injury to a 2nd degree before you know what hit you.
- 2nd Degree: This injury will be much more painful and for longer periods of time than a tear of the lesser 1st degree. In this level of muscle injury, a significant number of muscle fibers are torn, but the amount does not reach the complete tear of level three.
However, this 2nd Degree muscle tear is much more serious than the everyday grade 1 strain and can quickly evolve into a full off the bone tear if not handled with care immediately following injury. The telltale signs of a 2nd degree rectus femoris tear are significant pain to the damaged area usually accompanied by localized swelling.
- 3rd Degree: As previously stated, this level of muscle strain is a complete tear of the muscle or associated tendons. If you happen to suffer this incredibly unfortunate injury, you will immediately feel a sharp burst of pain at the onset, which will quickly subside and may even disappear fully.
You will also notice if you are in tune with your muscle groups that you will be completely unable to contract the muscle in any way regardless of the location of the tear within the muscle.
Rectus Femoris Injury Treatment
Immediately following a strain of any degree, it is important to follow the self care treatment protocol of soft tissue injuries known as RICE. This acronym stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. These are four separate steps that you can perform on your own to both drastically reduce immediate effects of the injury and reduce the likelihood of re-injury.
This should be performed as soon as you’ve realized you have done damage of any degree to the rectus femoris. This can be accomplished through the use of an immobilization technique such as a walking boot with crutches. This ensures that the damaged leg doesn’t come in contact with the ground and cause either extension of the knee or flexion of the hip.
This form of rest is more typically reserved for more serious degrees of injury. But if you want to be safe about a simple grade one strain, it will absolutely prevent it from moving on to a second-degree injury.
Even better than the crutches and walking boot would be total immobilization in the form of laying down. While not always possible, taking complete weight off of the area by laying down is your absolute best bet at preventing further injury.
While at rest, the rectus femoris will have its best opportunity at receiving healing factors brought in by your blood. Without chance of further injury, your body can focus on the task at hand without having to worry about taking precautionary measures to prevent a greater injury.
This is an incredibly important second step in self-maintenance of the injured muscle. By applying ice to the affected area, you are temporarily shunting blood flow to and from the damaged muscle. This will work to significantly reduce swelling and also keep those healing factors in the area so they can work to the best of their ability.
Ice can safely be applied to the damaged muscle for 20-minute increments up to 8 times in a day. Unfortunately, there is too much of a good thing. In this case, prolonged exposure to the ice can cause damage to the surrounding blood vessels and can even go to the level of diminished nerve activity, if left on for too long.
This can be utilized more regularly than ice. A compression sleeve or bandage wrap will work to activate the draining capabilities of your veins to better circulate blood to the area following exposure to ice.
The more that the blood is able to circulate, the more opportunities the microscopic healers of your body has a chance to work their magic.
This is a crucial step to ensure your rectus femoris receives optimal nourishment and circulation. With the use of pillows, elevate your affected leg to a level above your heart.
This will jumpstart a rush of blood to the muscle to help even more so than if only the first three steps were taken.
Pain Management and Further Treatment
Luckily, rectus femoris tears of any degree rarely call for surgery unless there is coexisting damage to a surrounding ligament or bone.
The RICE method of self-care are the best steps you can take to get you back into fighting shape during the healing process.
If pain persists too much, over the counter NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can be taken to reduce the pain, but it is always a great idea to check with your doctor before taking them to ensure that your body can tolerate the medication. NSAIDS can affect people differently and in certain cases—hamper healing of certain sports related injuries or overuse.
If it is possible to take, never take more than what is recommended as too much can cause bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract.
Key Takeaways on How to Fix Rectus Femoris
The rectus femoris wears several hats when it comes to contraction obligations. It is both an extensor of of the knee and a flexor of the hip.
Overuse or direct trauma can lead to varying degrees of strains, all of which should be sufficiently treated through the RICE system of self-maintenance.
If after the injury it is fully healed and you still feel weakness, a physical therapy visit can provide you with the tools necessary to strengthen the rectus femoris to a point that it will become much less likely to get injured in the future.