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Rectus Femoris Muscle: Thigh, Knee Pain

(Last Updated On: September 2, 2018)

The rectus femoris contributes to knee pain and weakness.

Rectus Femoris Muscle Pain: Signs and Symptoms

Rectus femoris is one of the 4 quadriceps muscles. Pain is felt primarily in the front of your knee around and under the kneecap. Pain extends up into the lower front of the thigh. The pain often feels as if it originates under the knee cap. Your knee is often stiff and feels weak as if it may not support your weight. The inability to fully straighten your knee is primary sign of problems with the this muscle. Another prominent sign is pain when walking down stairs or an incline and a deep sharp pain in the front of the thigh while sleeping. A tight and contracted (shortened) rectus femoris is a contributor to restless leg syndrome.

Where is the Rectus Femoris muscle located?

The rectus femoris runs down the front of the thigh¸from the hip bone (ilium) to the knee (patella).

What movements does the rectus femoris muscle control?

The rectus femoris straightens the leg at the knee (extension) and raises your bent knee up toward the torso (flexion of the thigh). It helps move the leg forward when you are walking or running.

Activities that cause rectus femoris pain and symptoms:

The most common cause of rectus femoris pain is sitting for long periods of time. Sitting keeps the muscle shortened which will contribute to trigger points or small tender points in the  muscle. Hold something moderately heavy on your lap such as a child or large laptop will intensify the problems.

We all know that walking is good for you. However if you begin walking for exercise and walk too far when out of shape, the rectus femoris is likely to flair up. This is especially true for power walking. And speaking of walking ladies, walking or standing in high heel shoes for ;hours a day will cause your knees to hurt which is most often attributed to the rectus femoris. I know you get tired of hearing this, but if you are going to be walking and/or standing a lot, wear low heeled supportive shoes to keep pain at bay. Save the high heels for special occasions.

Walking and/or running down stairs or down inclines stresses the rectus femoris which will cause your knees to hurt, be stiff and feel weak.

Other common cause of rectus femoris pain are activities that in which you continually bend and straighten at the hip such as cycling, sit ups and leg lifts. Kicking footballs and soccer balls and swimming using the flutter kick all stress the muscle and can lead to knee pain and stiffness.

Rectus Femoris origin, insertion, action, innervation

You use the rectus femoris when you straighten your knee and lift your bent knee up toward your torso.

Interesting facts about the rectus femoris: Knee Bugs

  • The rectus femoris is responsible for the condition known as ‘knee bugs’. Knee bugs is a creepy crawly type feeling and pain that occurs under the knee cap. This condition is often caused by a trigger point in the rectus femoris muscle.
  • Of the four quadriceps muscles, the rectus femoris in the one most injured.

Rectus Femoris Muscle Pain and Symptoms Can Be Similar To, Contribute To, and Be Affected By These Medical Diagnosis:

If you have been diagnosed with any of the conditions below the rectus femoris muscle may contribute to or be affected. If your pain continues after the injury/diagnoses is healed, you may want to check rectus femoris for trigger points and exceptionally tender areas.

  • Patella femoral dysfunction
  • Floating Patella
  • Subluxation / Dislocation of the knee
  • Buckling knee (trick knee)
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament sprain or tear
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament sprain or tear
  • Torn meniscus (cartilage)
  • Quadriceps muscle tear
  • Sprain / Strain of the thigh or knee
  • Iliotibial tract friction syndrome
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Phantom limb pain
  • L2 L3 or L4 radiculopathy

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the rectus femoris muscle:

Satellite trigger points asscioated with the rectus femoris:

Recommendations to Relieve Rectus Femoris Muscle Pain

Warm and Cool Gels and Creams

Analgesic creams can help the pain of a strained or sore rectus femoris muscle. If the pain is sudden onset due to an injury or overexertion I recommend Biofreeze Cold Gel. Biofreeze works like ice to cool and inhibit inflammation and swelling.

If your thigh and knee pain is chronic I recommend Sombra Warm Therapy Gel. I like Sombra because it does not get as hot as some of the over the counter creams, but provides a nice soothing warmth to relieve pain and stiffness.

Both gels work well for arthritic knees. Biofreeze works well for swollen achy joints, while Sombra is incredibly soothing for stiff and achy joints.

Many people alternate the two gels, which works well. However, DO NOT APPLY ONE OVER THE OTHER! Be sure to thoroughly clean the area before switching treatments to prevent uncomfortable burning and possibly skin blistering.

To treat the rectus femoris muscle rub either start at the top of the thigh just below the hip bone and rub down and around the knee.

Hot and Cold Wraps For Rectus Femoris Injury Treatment and Pain Relief

If you engage in activities that stress the quadriceps or other thigh muscles, or are recovering from an injury or surgery keeping hot/cold wraps at the ready can provide quick treatment to relieve pain and help with recovery.

My go to hot/cold pack is the The Simple Spectra Clay Hot/Cold Wrap. The pack is filled with a non-toxic clay that holds both hot and cold well. The pack is large and comes with a wrap with adjustable straps that works well for the rectus femoris, thigh muscles, and knee as well as many other areas of the body.

If you often use cold therapy for quadriceps, knee, and other thigh muscles, I highly recommend the Freeze Sleeve. It slides on like a support sleeve and will stay in place while you are up and moving around. It comes in various sizes so be sure to look at the size chart and measure to get the correct size. It is a bit pricey, but if you use ice often, it is worth the price.

Supports and Braces For Rectus Femoris Thigh Pain

If you need additional thigh support for a sore or recovering rectus femoris consider the Thigh Brace by Vive. The adjustable wrap will provide you with the support, compression, and warmth needed to keep your thigh muscles flexible and free of stress.

If you want something lighter take a look at the Sparthos Thigh Compression Sleeves. I really like these sleeves as they provide compression and stay in place!

If you prefer full leg support and compression the CompressionZ Men's Compression Pants and the CompressionZ Women's Leggings are recommended for workouts, cycling, running and walking. The leggings support the muscles and are touted to help with circulation. And I can tell you I find them comfortable and not as binding as some other compression leggings.

Recommended Knee Braces For Rectus Femoris Knee Pain

Dysfunction of the rectus femoris can cause different symptoms in the knee. The most common complaint is stiff, achy knees that are unable to fully extend (straighten). Another is weakness and a sensation the kneecap is unstable. The proper knee support can help you with pain and to get through your daily activities. Here are three braces I use or have used and recommend.

The Physix Gear Knee Sleeve is recommended for those who do sporting activities including walking, jogging and cycling that need additional support. The graduated compression helps with circulation as well as support.

The Professional's Choice Knee Support provides more support with adjustable bands. It can be used for sports and is highly recommended for those who are on their feet a lot, for people who have buckling knees, and for people with knee arthritis. This brace provides support and is very comfortable to wear. This is the brace I use most.

The BioSkin Wrap Around Compression Supportive Knee Brace is recommended for those who have extremely weak buckling knees. The patella (kneecap) support strap is adjustable to either side and the velcro straps provide compression and hold the brace securely in place. (not shown)

Self Treatment For Rectus Femoris Pain

If you are interested trying self treatment for your thigh and knee pain caused by the rectus femoris, I recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Book. The authors will explain how to find and treat specific areas in he muscles to start you on the path to not only becoming pain free, but how to find and treat muscle pain yourself. Anyone interested in finding and treating muscle pain need to own this book. This is a book I recommend to clients, family and friends, it a a resource that I believe everyone should own.

Roll The Rectus Femoris Muscle For Pain Relief and Recovery

The Tiger Tail 18″ Roller is recommended to use on both upper and lower leg muscles to help relieve muscle tension and pain. I like the Tiger Tail for its ease of use and because it does not strain the wrists and hands. You do not have to contort into different positions or get on the floor or up against the wall to use this foam roller, simply roll it up or down the muscle. It is recommended by physical therapists, athletic trainers and doctors for self-treatment of muscles in between appointments. To use the Tiger Tail on the rectus femoris muscles start just above the knee and roll up covering the front of the thigh. Cover the entire front including just to the inside and outside of the front thigh. Start with light strokes for a minute or two and build into more pressure and more time. Do not overdo as you can irritate the muscles!

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