SportsPlus Physio
Unit 25, Quintin's Way, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary Phone: 067 42837   Email:

Dead Leg

A very common injury in contact sports is the aptly named “dead leg”. This injury is also known as a “charley horse”, a “cork thigh” or a “quads contusion”. What a dead leg is essentially is a traumatic blow to the quadriceps muscle, which is the muscle at the front of your thigh, or to the iliotibial band, which is a layer of very strong tissue on the outside of your thigh. The impact crushes the muscle against the underlying bone and causes bleeding with varying levels of muscle and tissue damage.

Many people who sustain a dead leg attempt to continue playing in an effort to “run it off”. This is not very sensible as all it does is cause an increase in the bleeding in the muscle making recovery much slower and running the risk of possible permanent disability.

While dead legs are a very common injury what most people do not realise is that a dead leg can also be a serious injury. The quadriceps muscle is a very big muscle and had a large blood supply. Because of this a lot of bleeding can occur and this increases even more if the muscle is being exercised at the time of the injury. If the bleeding is deep in the muscle a pocket of blood forms called a haematoma. Usually the body reabsorbs this blood over time but occasionally they do not disappear and require surgical removal.  If the trauma is of a large enough force and damages a blood vessel the bleeding can be severe enough to cause one of the compartments in the thigh to fill with blood. This rarely occurs but can be very serious.

The most important thing to do with a dead leg is to control the bleeding. This is done by stopping activity immediately and icing the area. This decreases the amount of blood going to the area and minimises bleeding. It’s best to ice for 20 minutes every hour in the initial stages. The area should also be compressed with an elastic bandage. The importance of it being elastic lies in the fact that it can expand slightly if the bleeding continues which is very important to stop tissue and nerve damage.

Apart from ice, rest, elevation and compression it is important to begin gently contracting the muscle with the knee straight and holding the contraction for a few seconds. It’s important that it’s done pain-free. This serves to have a pumping effect on the bleeding and helps the body get rid of it. It also prevents muscle wasting. It’s vital in the first 48 hours of a dead leg not to stretch the injury or do any form of massage on it. This can lead to a problem called myositis ossificans developing. This is potentially a very serious condition in which bone can develop within the muscle and can require surgery.

The dead leg is a common injury and will heal properly in most instances if the correct measures are taken. If neglected, however, it can have serious repercussions.

For further information contact the chartered physiotherapists at Sportsplus Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Clinic, 25 Quintin’s Way, Nenagh, 067-42837.

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