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Stretching can improve your performance, decrease your risk of injury and reduce tension and pain in your muscles, according to the Mayo Clinic. But like most workout routines, too much stretching can be risky. The quadriceps are actually a group of large muscles, so overstretching this area can lead to pain in several different muscles, which can interfere with your mobility and daily fitness routine.
Delayed Onset Soreness
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a type of muscle pain that occurs after exercise -- usually within 12 to 24 hours. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it is likely due to microscopic tears in the muscles, and overstretching the quadriceps can both cause and increase the size of these tears. While DOMS isn't typically dangerous, it can be painful, and will generally mean you have to steer clear of strenuous exercise or stretching until the pain clears up.
Sprains and Strains
If you hold a painful position for too long or force a stretch you can't otherwise do, you could tear your quadriceps. Such a tear can cause bruising, extreme pain and difficulty with movement, and usually occurs during a stretching routine immediately after you injure the muscle. Most tears heal on their own, but require you to avoid overworking the muscle. In some cases, though, you might have to have surgery to correct the tear.
Your quadriceps aren't the only muscles you can injure due to overstretching. When you overstretch your quadriceps, other muscles may step in to compensate for weakness or inflexibility in your quads. For example, if you stretch by pulling your leg up behind you, your lower back might step in and begin stretching to give you the strength to raise your leg. If you continue stretching when you feel pain, you could end up with a tear or a strain.
Quadriceps Stretching Safety
For the safest stretch, begin with only a slight stretch. Hold for 30 seconds without bouncing or rocking, and then try to stretch a bit further if you can. If a stretch is painful, results in popping or causes muscles surrounding your quads to shake or hurt, you're overstretching and need to stretch less forcefully.