Suffering from dead leg is not something anyone enjoys. Dead leg is a term used to describe a Charley horse, which is bruising that occurs to the muscle when it is crushed against the thigh bone.

A strong impact to the leg is what causes dead leg to occur. Unfortunately, it can cause severe pain, discomfort, and trouble with daily activities. Fortunately, knowing the best way to handle a Charley horse in calf or thigh areas can help you heal and get back on track.

What is Dead Leg?

The front of your thighs contain a large group of four muscles, which are known as quadriceps. When the quadriceps experiences contusions, bruising, or hemorrhaging, it can create a condition known as dead leg. Bleeding within the quadriceps may occur, which can lead to pain, swelling, and discomfort.

Causes of Dead Leg

A person usually suffers dead leg as a result of a direct impact to the thigh. Most commonly, direct impacts occur after you are struck with an object or experience a direct collision with another person. Athletes are most commonly affected.

High impact sports that require tackling and collision with other players place you in the highest risk category. Sports with the greatest risk include football, rugby, and soccer. In both football and rugby, players tackle one another. In soccer, you may collide with another player or the ball may strike you in the thigh.

A strong enough impact crushes the quadriceps against the thigh bone. The impact can cause damage to the muscle and blood vessels. If strong enough, the blow can cause swelling and bleeding.

Dead Leg Symptoms

You may not feel the symptoms of dead leg right away. In some instances, the pain feels minor, which allows you to continue with normal activity. When you play sports, your body heats up, including your muscle fibers. The heated muscle fibers do not feel as much pain, which makes the pain seem insignificant.

Unfortunately, as your body cools, so do the muscle fibers. You may feel pain gradually increasing in your leg as your body temperature cools. Pain is especially an issue if swelling and bleeding continue to occur after you are no longer participating in any activities. Eventually, the quadriceps may tighten or stiffen up.

You may also experience symptoms such as:

  • Severe leg cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Limited range of motion
  • Mobility issues (trouble walking or standing because of discomfort)

If you notice any of the symptoms associated with dead leg, contact your physician. Your physician can treat the pain and swelling and offer recommendations to promote faster healing.

What Can You Do?

Make sure you apply the RICE method after receiving a thigh contusion. The RICE method includes:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation

Rest allows your leg to heal. If you do not rest, you may cause further injury to your leg. Ice minimizes pain and swelling. Compression is also used to minimize inflammation. Elevation requires you to lift the affected area above the level or your heart to promote circulation. The circulation prevents fluid buildup, which reduces swelling and inflammation.

You should use the RICE method for at least 24-48 hours after suffering a Charley horse in leg or thigh regions. If necessary, use crutches so you are not placing any weight on the affected leg. If you notice that you have trouble walking or the pain is not subsiding, talk to your doctor.

Keep in mind that severe swelling can minimize healing. To promote healing, you will need to reduce swelling. Your best bet is to wrap an ice pack around the affected area of your cloth. Leave the ice on the area for roughly 15-20 minutes and reapply every 1-2 hours as needed.

You should also use an over the counter anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen. You can safely take ibuprofen once every 6-8 hours. Make sure you check with your doctor before using any over the counter medications so they do not interact negatively with any prescription medication you are using.

Medical Treatment for Dead Leg

Medical treatment is an effective way to treat dead leg. First, you will meet with your physiotherapist to determine the extent of the damaged muscle and tissues. The physiotherapist can determine how long it will take for your injury to heal and the best treatment to promote faster healing.

Physiotherapy treatments aim to reduce pain and swelling by focusing on stretching and strengthening the affected area. Treatment plans may include soft tissue treatment, hydrotherapy, manipulation, and electrotherapy.

Soft Tissue Treatment

Soft tissue treatment is one form of treatment the physiotherapist will recommend depending on your symptoms. Soft tissue therapy offers several treatment options, too. For instance, the physiotherapist may use heat therapy, which increases blood flow to the affected area.

Massage therapy is another option, which improves blood flow and stimulates your soft tissues to promote circulation, pain relief, and relaxation of the affected muscles. Stretching and cold therapy are also forms of soft tissue therapy.

Stretching eases your muscles and tissues back into day-to-day use, which provides faster healing. Cold therapy is a form of treatment used when acute inflammation occurs, which is sometimes the case with dead leg. Cold therapy reduces blood flow to an area and removes excess swelling. The cold also relieves pain.

Hydrotherapy Treatment

Hydrotherapy is an effective way to treat dead leg and many other ailments related to muscle and tissue damage. The treatment involves specific physiotherapy approved exercises and techniques carried out while in warm water. The warm water helps relieve pain and promotes relaxation, allowing you to move more fluidly.

Hydrotherapy improves functions by promoting healthier circulation. It is a great method for individuals who experience a limited range of mobility, which is often the case when it comes to people with dead leg.

Manipulation Treatment

Physiotherapy focuses more on homeopathic remedies, which is beneficial for dead leg. Dead leg is not typically an injury that requires surgery or even extensive care. Simple manipulation might be enough to heal the affected area.

Manipulation involves moving the leg in such a way that it reduces pain and stiffness. Although manipulation therapy more commonly applies to people with pain and swelling in their joints, it is also used for dead leg.

Since dead leg can limit your mobility, a physiotherapist will manipulate the position of your leg to encourage your range of motion. By working your leg a little more each time, you will be able to gain full range of motion back in no time.

Electrotherapy Treatment

Just the word electrotherapy may sound a bit scary, but electrotherapy treatment offers significant benefits. The treatment uses an electrical current applied to the affected area, in this case, your thigh, to reduce pain and swelling and promote faster healing.

The electric current is minimal at best and does not pose any risk of electrocution. The current is just enough to cause the muscles in your legs to contract and relax. The continuous contraction and relaxation of your muscle improves blood flow, which encourages healing.

What to Avoid

Although dead leg is a condition that typically heals rather quickly, there are a few activities you should avoid. For at least the first 24-48 hours, make sure you do not participate in activities that increase blood flow. In other words, no jogging, running, biking, exercise, or sports participation.  You should avoid using heat or hot showers during this time frame as well. 

With dead leg, you are already experiencing bleeding in the quadriceps. If you increase blood flow, you will increase the bleeding and swelling that occurs, which can also increase your pain and discomfort.

Increasing your blood flow, pain, and discomfort can mean longer recovery times for you. You should avoid alcohol consumption at least during the first 24-48 hours.

Ongoing Ailments

Although dead leg typically clears up within a few days to a few weeks, there are instances in which a condition known as myositis ossificans may occur. Myositis ossificans is a term used to describe the formation of bone tissue inside the tissues of your muscles. This commonly occurs after a deep muscle bruise or trauma.

Athletes are particularly at risk of developing this ongoing ailment since it is most common among individuals who experience repeated trauma to the muscles. Make sure you follow up with your doctor. Your physician can tell you if you are at risk of developing myositis ossificans.

As with dead leg, the treatment for myositis ossificans is relatively simple. You may have to use anti-inflammatories and your doctor can prescribe you with topical anti-inflammatory ointments. Make sure you apply the ointments as directed to reduce any pain and discomfort.

Prevention Methods

Although injuries are likely to occur in any sport, there are certain prevention methods you can take to reduce the likelihood of an injury. For instance, make sure you stretch before participating in any sport. Stretching warms your muscles and reduces the threat of injury.

Make sure you also wear the proper protective gear for your particular sport. Some sports offer thigh pads to help prevent the threat of dead leg injuries. Talk to your coach or physician to find out what specialized safety gear they recommend to help you avoid injuries.

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