Key Points about Thigh or Calf Strain or Sprain

  • Strains occur when muscle fibers are damaged due to excess stress on the area.
  • Sprains occur when ligaments become stretched or torn, often due to a sudden movement.
  • Common symptoms of a strain or sprain include bruising, tenderness and swelling in the affected area.
  • Strains and sprains can often be treated at home by resting and icing the affected area, avoiding activities that cause pain.
Common related conditions
Knee Strain or Sprain Quadriceps Tendonitis Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome Thigh and Lower Leg Fractures

Overview

A thigh or calf strain occurs when those muscle fibers become damaged, often from a sudden movement that puts excess stress on the muscles and causes them to tear. A thigh or calf sprain, on the other hand, occurs when those ligaments are stretched or torn.

While the severity of strains and sprains varies, symptoms generally include bruising, tenderness and swelling in the affected area—which may worsen while walking.

Treatment will vary according to the severity of the injury. Most mild strains and sprains can be treated at home. Call your doctor if your pain or swelling is severe and inhibits your ability to walk, or if your symptoms do not improve over time with home remedies. 

Thigh or calf strain or sprain causes

Common causes of thigh strains or sprains include:

  • Weakness, imbalances, tightness or fatigue in the legs
  • Improper workout techniques
  • Not warming up adequately before working out

Calf strains are often caused by:

  • Overstretching
  • Abrupt pushing-off motions
  • Jumping motions
  • Abruptly changing directions when running of playing a sport

Thigh or calf strain or sprain risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of experiencing a thigh strain or sprain if you:

  • Have tight hamstring or quadricep muscles
  • Increase the intensity of your exercise dramatically and abruptly
  • Do not follow proper exercise techniques

You may be at an increased risk of experiencing a calf strain or sprain if you:

  • Have tight calf or leg muscles
  • Are older

Thigh or calf strain or sprain symptoms

The main symptom of a thigh sprain or strain is a pain in the thigh that feel like a pulling or tugging sensation.

Additional signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain while walking or using the affected muscle
  • Bruising, swelling or tenderness in the affected thigh
  • Hearing a “pop” or “snap” at the time of the injury

Common symptoms of a calf strain or sprain include:

  • Bruising, swelling or tenderness in the affected calf
  • Feeling an abrupt pain in the calf

Thigh or calf strain or sprain prevention

While some strains and sprains result from accidents that are hard to prevent, you can reduce your risk of knee sprains or strains by:

  • Wearing proper, supportive footwear when exercising
  • Always warming up before exercising
  • Stretching and strengthening the leg muscles
  • Making changes to your training regimen incrementally, not suddenly

Thigh or calf strain or sprain diagnosis

When diagnosing a thigh or calf strain or sprain, your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask about the event that caused your injury. In some cases, if a more serious injury is suspected, your doctor may also order an X-ray or MRI scan.

Thigh or calf strain or sprain treatment

After consulting a doctor, you can generally treat mild calf or thigh sprains and strains at home, by:

  • Resting, icing, compressing and elevating the joint
  • Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, as needed
  • Following a physical therapy routine, provided by your doctor

When to seek care

Call your doctor if you have extreme pain or swelling in the area that inhibits your ability to walk, or if your symptoms do not improve over time with home remedies.

Next Steps

Your doctor will assess your symptoms and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan accordingly.