Functional Anatomy Part 2: The Quadriceps

This series focuses on learning about specific muscles to help you better understand why you need to strengthen or stretch in a particular way to prevent or heal injuries. This month we take a look at the quadriceps.

1. Where is this muscle?
The quadriceps is made up of four muscles all with different origins. One part originates at the hip (anterior inferior iliac spine) while the other parts originate on different parts of your femur (upper leg bone). They all come together just above your kneecap (patella) and insert just below your kneecap (tibial tuberosity). This means that your kneecap is directly linked to your quadriceps.

2. What does it do?
This muscle group helps with hip flexion (lifting your upper leg) and leg extension (straightening your leg).

3. Common injuries?
The most common problem with this muscle group is imbalance. For instance, when you are skiing you mostly feel the burn in the outer portion of your leg or lateral portion of your quadriceps muscle. If this part of the muscle gets way stronger than the inner portion, your kneecap will start moving to the outside of your leg when bending or straightening your leg. This is commonly referred to as poor patellar tracking or chondromalacia. To fix this, you need to strengthen the inner portion of the quadriceps, your vastus medialis, which is that little muscle that often looks like a lump just above your kneecap on the inside.

Many skiers also strain this muscle their first few days on the slopes. The best way to heal a strained muscle is to keep it moving. Light physical exercise such as a walk and stretching should help subside some of that lactic acid that has built up. Consult a professional if you have sharp pain or your discomfort does not get better within a few days.

4. How do you strengthen this muscle?
Squats, lunges, leg press, and/or leg extensions are the best way to get this muscle strong. Using a variety of exercises for your quadriceps in your strength program will help you get more parts of this muscle group involved, creating a more balanced muscle. Make sure your mechanics are correct so you are not creating imbalances. A good rule of thumb is to align your kneecap with your second toe through any motion. Do not exercise through any sharp or shooting pain.

5. How do you stretch this muscle?
The easiest stretch is to hold your foot up behind you and bring it towards your hip. If you do not have the flexibility to hold your foot, you can place the top of your foot on a chair behind you and slowly lean back. Hold each stretch for approximately 10 slow breaths.

Remember that you should never exercise through pain and of course please play safely and have fun!