Dead leg, or quadriceps contusion, is a condition most frequently encountered in contact sports (football, rugby, etc.) but it may affect runners in case of accidents (tripping and falling down). It is caused by crushing the muscle against the thigh bone (the femur) which is one of the longest and most dense bones in the human body.
There are three grades of severity for dead leg, starting from the grade 1 mild contusion, to grade 3 which represents deep crushing of the muscle and requires using crutches for one or two months. During running, athletes may typically suffer from grade 1 quadriceps contusion – the lightest form of injury. Nonetheless, this is still quite painful to require taking a break from training and following a physiotherapists advice to return to your regular running schedule after healing.
The symptoms of dead leg are:
- Pain immediately after the impact (accident)
- Difficulty in walking and restricted movements
- Swelling and bruising within a few hours after the incident
If you suffered from dead leg, the first thing you must do is sit down and refrain from putting any pressure on the injured leg or pressing down on the muscle in an attempt to massage the pain away. Your doctor will recommend therapeutic massage at the appropriate moment along your recovery path.
These are the basic steps to curing dead leg and getting back on the running track as soon as possible:
- The RICE Method
Extensively discussed in other articles, the RICE method remains the most efficient first aid technique for many types of running injuries, including dead leg. Ice applications should take place during the first 72 hours after the injury in 10-minute sessions with a break of 2-3 hours between applications.
As for compression, you should ask your doctor to recommend a compressive bandage of adequate elasticity to prevent further crushing of the muscle and restriction of the blood flow.
- Ultrasound/Electrical Stimulation
Your doctor may prescribe a few sessions with an ultrasound or electrical stimulation machine. The duration and intensity of the sessions will be determined by the severity of your injury and the treatment will take place in the presence of a licensed professional.
- Sports Massage
In the case of dead leg, it is important to follow your physio’s recommendations strictly. The problem with this type of injury is that applying massage too soon after the injury may cause the occurrence of a condition called myositis ossificans (the ossification of the muscle). When your physio gives you the green light for massage, you should approach a chartered physio who will apply the specific technique appropriate.
Gentle stretching will be included in your recovery programme within a few days after the injury, in the case of grade 1 dead leg. However, you should be careful about starting with light stretches, paying attention to the response of your body and not attempting to push yourself too much in the attempt of returning to your regular training.
One sign that you are prepared to move on to more difficult exercises is the ability to bend your knee at 90 degrees without any pain or tightness in your upper leg muscles.
The total recovery prognosis for the light version of dead leg is 7-10 days before you can restart your training and running. However, depending on the severity of your injury, your doctor may give you a different prognosis. No matter how eager you are to get over the injury, you should not skip any step in the recovery plan and instead wait patiently for your muscles to heal completely before you attempt running again.