Tight Quads and Ways to Stretch Them

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Tight Quads from Sitting

Woman sitting at a desk with laptop.
Sitting at a desk can lead to tight quadriceps and low back pain. Science Photo Library/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Our sedentary culture breeds tight quadriceps muscles.  Chronically tight quads can pull the pelvis forward which, in turn, may accentuate the lordotic curve in your low back.  A little lordosis is a good thing, but when it becomes excessive, back troubles may set in.

The quadriceps muscles are a group of 4 that are located at the front of the thigh.  They are unique compared to most muscles because they cross two joints – the knee and the hip - instead of the customary one. 

But when we talk about back pain, it’s the effect the quadriceps have on the hip and pelvis that matters most.

The quadriceps muscle originates on the front of your hip bone, at an area known as the anterior superior iliac spine, or ASIS, and it crosses over the hip joint on its way toward its insertion point on the knee. The jobs of the quadriceps muscle are to flex the hip joint and straighten the knee joint.  It is not possible to fully do both actions at the same time, however.

When your quads are tight, they pull down on this ASIS point, which in effect, pulls your entire pelvic bone forward, into an anterior tilt.  Because the spine wedges in between the two hip bones (in back) it's carried along with this forward movement.  The spine adapts to the change in position by accentuating the normal lordoctic curve.

Back to sitting. Sitting regularly puts you in a position where your quadriceps are in near constant contraction.  And the more the quadriceps shorten and tighten, the greater the chance of chronic muscle tension in your lower back muscles.

How Do You Know When The Quadriceps Are Tight?

Quadriceps muscle tension can be insidious. As a constant sitter, you may not notice the day in and day out decreases that occur in your quad flexibility, nor the resulting tension in your low back muscles.  Another scenario: You’ve resigned yourself to the regular low back aches and pains you’ve accumulated along the way to the point where they become your new “normal.” In other words, you’ve learned to live with limitation and at least some back pain – all because your quads are tight.

While getting a physical evaluation by licensed doctor and/or physical therapist is likely the most accurate and reliable way to determine how tight your quadriceps muscles are, there’s a simpler, and for the most part, just as useful way to determine your need for regular quad stretching.  You just put your hip joint on a stretch and notice how it feels.  Slide on for a few ways to accomplish this very thing.

Related:  Quadriceps and Back Health - How do they Relate?

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Hips Forward

Senior woman bending backwards
Put your hips in extension to test for tight quadriceps. lisafx

Try standing up and push your hips forward. (Push from your sitting bones in order to target the correct location.) How far forward can you go and what does that feel like? If you notice pain and/or limitation, you may have tight quadriceps.

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Lunge Exercise as Quad Muscle Tension Assessment

Woman doing a lunge.
The lunge position or exercise can help stretch tight quads. AmeliaFox

The lunge exercise can be a great quadriceps tension assessment tool, as long as you are safely and without pain able to assume a lunge position where one leg is forward (and bent) in front of the other, and the back leg is straight. Note, this is also a yoga pose known as Warrior I. 

Whether during yoga or plain ‘ole exercise, once in a lunge position, ask yourself: What does this feel like at the front of the hip of the back leg? If this area is talking to you, you might consider adding a regular quad stretch to your daily routine.

In fact, you might check out this lunge-related quad stretch: Stretch Your Quad Muscle in a Lunge

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Camel Post and Quad Tightness

Silhouette of woman doing yoga camel pose.
Test your quadriceps tension with the yoga camel pose. STYLEPICS

Another tell-tale yoga pose for tight quadriceps muscles is the camel.  In the camel pose, you begin in a kneeling position.  Depending on your level of ability (and flexibility), you arch back, with the ultimate goal of grasping your ankles behind you with your hands. Before you try this, please see the camel pose pointers below.

The camel pose puts the quads at the hip on a pretty intense stretch if you’re not used to it.  So if you can’t reach all the way back or you need to prop up or modify the pose a lot in order to tolerate the pain, chances are your quadriceps are tight.  By the way, to really get the quad stretch in this pose, bring the bottom of your pelvis forward, toward wall in front of you.  Yikes!

Camel Pose Pointers

  • Be sure to modify the pose to accommodate any back or neck pain you may have. 
  • Variations exist where you can reach behind you and touch the wall, if you’re stiff, just getting into yoga, or you have other limiting issues.
  • There’s a specific order and technique to safely getting into and out of the camel pose.  It's best to work with a certified, experienced teacher, especially when you first start, or if you have back issues.
  • Check out About.com Yoga Expert Ann Pizer's Instructions for the Camel Pose

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