What is a Corked Thigh (Quadriceps Contusion)? The Symptoms & Treatment Options

Written by Leon Mao
Physiotherapist, University of Melbourne
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on April 11, 2022
Contributed by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University

Man sitting on the edge of a rugby field with a corked thigh

Corked thigh injuries are most common during contact activities, such as football and rugby. According to research from Victoria University, 5.8%-12.2% of Australian Football Rules players will miss playing time due to a corked thigh.[1]

Corked thighs are also called a ‘dead leg’ as the bleeding, swelling and bruising from the injury can make it very painful to kick, jump or run. Australians will also use the slang term ‘corky’ to describe a contusion injury (particularly the quadriceps). A corked thigh can also describe a contusion to the hamstring (back thigh muscle) but is much less common than the quadriceps.

Read on to understand what you should know about a corked thigh; the risk factors, treatment options and expected recovery time.

What is a Corked Thigh (Quadriceps Contusion)?

A corked thigh (also known as quadriceps contusion) is a painful injury to the quadriceps (front thigh muscle) where the blood vessels underneath the skin have been torn or ruptured. As a result, bleeding and swelling from the vessels causes bruising around the corked thigh.

What are the symptoms of a corked thigh?

Corked thighs are characterised by significant pain, swelling and bruising to the affected thigh. Other symptoms include restricted movement and an overall feeling of weakness in the leg.

Symptoms of a corked thigh injury can be categorised based on severity.

Mild Corked Thigh

There’s a presence of pain, but usually minimal, with the following symptoms:

  • Mild discolouration of the skin

  • Soreness

  • Tenderness

  • The ability to stretch the muscle is slightly reduced

  • Strength may be affected

  • Mild pain

  • Muscle Aches

Moderate Corked Thigh

Muscle fibres are crushed, and there’s significant bleeding in the muscle, with the following symptoms:

  • Minimum stiffness after rest

  • Swelling and pain

  • Tenderness

  • Difficulty bending the knee

  • Difficulty walking.

Severe Corked Thigh

Severe bleeding and swelling inside the muscle, with the following symptoms:

  • Rapid swelling and bleeding

  • Inability to walk without pain and most likely requiring crutches

  • Severe pain

  • Tenderness

  • Large amounts of bruising.

Common symptoms of a corked thigh

  • Tightness of the thigh muscles

  • Pain when trying to straighten the knee

  • Unable to fully bend the knee

  • A noticeable bulge in the thigh muscles in severe cases.

What causes a corked thigh?

Corked thighs are usually caused by involvement in high contact sports such as rugby or soccer. A significant blow to the thigh from an opposition player is usually the primary cause, or in ball sports like hockey or cricket, the ball may cause the corked thigh.

Common causes of a corked thigh

  • Blunt trauma from a fight

  • Accidental contact during sports

  • Poor conditioning

  • Lack of protective equipment

Sports that increase the risk of a corked thigh

Contact sports are the most common causes of corked thighs. Here is a list of the most common sports that can result in a corked thigh:

  • Australian football

  • Soccer

  • Kickboxing

  • Baseball

  • Tennis.

How is a corked thigh diagnosed?

A corked thigh can be very painful and can leave you limping for weeks. Furthermore, improper treatment and inefficient recovery can lead to muscle tears and recurring injuries in the future.

There are several options available when it comes to diagnosing your thigh pain. One of the more common and most recommended by Australian GPs is an assessment from a physiotherapist.

Physiotherapists are sports rehabilitation experts that deal with muscle injuries. They are medically qualified to diagnose and treat sports conditions such as corked thighs.

Your assessment with a physiotherapist is comprehensive yet straightforward. You’ll have a mini-interview regarding your injury and medical status. Take this time to discuss all your symptoms, lifestyle and related medical conditions.

After establishing a background for your injury, your physiotherapist will perform a physical assessment to assess the function of your quadriceps. You’ll be asked to perform specific leg movements to screen for other issues in your thigh to create an accurate diagnosis.

Your physiotherapist will then create a specific treatment plan for you and will guide you through your recovery.

This will also include:

  • Recovery and treatment program

  • List of exercises you can do at home to assist your recovery.

  • Pain management and strategy

  • Sport-specific exercises to help you get back in the game

How is a corked thigh treated?

Corked thighs can limit your ability to move and prevent you from participating in sports for a few weeks or months. What is even worse is that poor recovery from a corked thigh can lead to calcification or abnormal bone formation in your thigh muscles.

There are several options when it comes to treating a corked thigh. One of the more common and the treatment option referred to by Australian GPs the most frequently is physiotherapy.

Physiotherapists routinely encounter sports conditions such as a corked thigh. They are in the best position to give you optimal treatment and appropriate rehabilitation for your injury.

Your treatment will focus on stopping any signs of bleeding within the muscles, controlling the inflammation and ensuring that you regain your function and return to sports as soon as possible.

Depending on the severity of your corked thigh, a physiotherapist may provide you with a combination of the following types of treatments:

  • Soft Tissue Massage - Hands-on technique to reduce the swelling and improve blood flow.

  • Stretching Exercises - Gentle stretching to help relieve muscle tension and prevent stiffness.

  • Manual Therapy - Hands-on technique used by your physiotherapist to reduce soft tissue stiffness and improve your joint mobility.

  • Therapeutic Exercises - Exercise techniques to correct impairments that may be contributing to your injury.

  • Sports-specific Exercises - Exercises designed to help you return to your specific sports without the risk of reinjury.

A typical physiotherapy session with your local physiotherapist will last anywhere between 30-60 minutes. It is not uncommon for patients to feel the benefits in just one session.

Next step - Creating a treatment plan made for you

After the assessment, your physiotherapist will create a specific treatment program tailored to your condition to maximise your recovery.

Self-care for a corked thigh

If you think you have a corked thigh, here are the best things you can do and avoid.

Things to do:

  1. Ice and compress

It is important to use ice and a compressive bandage around your thigh while keeping your knee as flexed or bent as possible to stop the bleeding inside the muscle. Fix the knee in a flexed position for a full 24 hours.

  1. Massage

While recovering, it is also advisable to use gentle massage techniques to help decrease fluid retention in your muscles and stimulate faster recovery.

  1. Stretch

Gently stretch the quadricep muscles to prevent stiffness.

  1. Exercise

If bleeding is resolved, progressive exercises for your quadriceps muscle is needed to stimulate soft tissue healing and prevent the complications of deconditioning. Ask guidance from a physiotherapist about the exercise routines for your condition.

Things to avoid:

  1. Avoid straightening your leg following an injury

If you have a corked thigh, do not put your leg in a straight position. Try and keep the leg slightly bent to maintain good range of motion in your quads.

  1. Avoid high impact activities and prioritise your recovery.

Just like any other injury, having a corked thigh requires proper recovery and healing. Returning to sports and high impact activity too quickly can lead to further damage.

Do I need a specialist or surgery?

Your GP may order diagnostic imaging to confirm the diagnosis and assess the status of your injury.

MRI and diagnostic ultrasounds are the main diagnostic procedures to check the severity of bleeding and fluid accumulation inside the muscle.

Pain medications such as NSAIDs may be given to you to help you manage the pain and control the swelling. This may also prevent the development of myositis ossificans (bone tissue forming in a muscle).

After four weeks, radiographic imaging should be performed if you still are struggling to move without pain and there is still a significant limitation in your range of motion. This is to screen for the presence of myositis ossificans.

Your GP will refer you to a physiotherapist for rehabilitation and ensure optimal recovery from your condition.

What is the recovery time / prognosis for a corked thigh?

Ultimately, recovery time is dependent on being proactive and seeking professional treatment and the severity of your shoulder pain and injury.

Severe rupture of the deep blood vessels may hinder your recovery and prevent you from participating in sports and physical activities for months.

In general, full recovery may take anywhere between 1 to 8 weeks. Optimal rehabilitation is also crucial to prevent the formation of myositis ossificans, which complicates your condition further.

The good thing is physiotherapy can improve your overall outcome and accelerate your healing time.

Important factors in recovery include:

  • Sticking to your rehabilitation program and regularly exercising

  • Resuming your sports activity gradually

  • Paying attention to pain, and resting as necessary.

Can a corked thigh be prevented?

It’s impossible to prevent injuries from occurring, especially in high-contact sports. However there are some things you can do to minimise the risk of injury and also reduce the potential symptoms and outcome if you are injured.

  • Stretching – regular stretching of the quadriceps can help prevent and relieve both tightness and stiffness of the muscle.

  • Strengthen your quads – strengthening your muscles allows them to become more resilient to stress and trauma. A strong muscle can recover much faster when injured.

Outlook and the main takeaways

A corked thigh is common and can be a serious injury. Immediately after the injury, place your knee in full flexion and wrap it with an ice compress to stop the bleeding in the muscle.

It is essential to rest and let your body recover for a few weeks. Book a visit with a physiotherapist today and to receive optimal treatment for your corked thigh.

Anatomy of the quadriceps

The quadriceps femoris is a strong group of muscles on the front part of the thighbone. It acts to bend the hip and straighten the knee during contraction.

The quadriceps consists of four major muscles:

  • Rectus femoris

  • Vastus lateralis

  • Vastus medialis

  • Vastus intermedius

Direct trauma to the quadriceps muscles can compress the muscles into the surface of the femur (thighbone), resulting in tears to the muscle fibres and blood vessels. Bleeding and leaking of fluids to the muscle results in rapid swelling and a contusion.

Written by Leon Mao
Physiotherapist, University of Melbourne
Published on April 11, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on April 11, 2022
Contributed by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on April 11, 2022
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