Thigh Contusion

A thigh contusion is an injury to the soft tissues and muscles in your upper leg. They often develop when you experience a direct hit to your thigh. You’re more likely to experience this injury if you participate in contact or extreme sports, like rugby, football, snowboarding or skateboarding. Many thigh contusions heal with at-home treatment.


What is a thigh contusion?

The word “contusion” is another word for bruise. A thigh contusion is an injury to the muscle and tissue on the upper part of your leg. These injuries can range from mild to severe, with most contusions healing quickly with at-home treatment.

A thigh contusion usually develops when you sustain a direct hit to your thigh. You’re more likely to get a bruise if you play high-contact sports, like rugby or football, or practice kickboxing.

How does a thigh contusion affect my body?

A thigh contusion is a bruise or pooling of blood (hematoma) in your quadriceps muscle group. The quadriceps are four muscles responsible for extending your knee and flexing your hip. Any injury to these muscles can make moving your hip or knee difficult or painful.

People with thigh contusions may also have:

  • Bone bruising and fluid and blood pooling around an injured bone.
  • Bone fracture.
  • Crushed muscle tissue.
  • Myositis ossificans, a serious condition occurring when bone tissue forms where soft tissue should.
How do you know if a thigh injury is serious?

Many thigh injuries are mild, but if you sustain a direct, severe blow to your thigh, it may cause a serious injury. A thigh injury may be serious if you have:

  • Challenges bending your knee more than 45 degrees.
  • Difficulty putting any weight on your injured leg.
  • Thigh swelling that develops very quickly.

What are the types of thigh contusions?

Healthcare providers classify thigh contusions based on their severity. The three types of thigh contusions are:

  • Mild contusions: You still have most of your usual range of motion. Your thigh may be sore or tender to the touch for several days. Mild contusions usually heal within six days.
  • Moderate contusions: It’s painful and difficult to bend your knee more than 90 degrees. You may have pain, swelling or tenderness that lasts several weeks. It can take up to two months to heal from a moderate thigh contusion.
  • Severe contusions: Bending your knee more than 45 degrees is difficult and painful. Your thigh swells rapidly, and you may have difficulty walking without crutches. Severe contusions usually take several months to heal.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a thigh contusion?

Thigh contusions are almost always painful. The other symptoms of a thigh contusion depend on the injury’s severity. You may experience:

  • Bruising.
  • Difficulty bending your knee or flexing your hip.
  • Pain with walking.
  • Swelling.
  • Tenderness.

What does a thigh contusion feel like?

A thigh contusion typically presents as pain located in the front of your leg. You may also feel like your thigh is throbbing.


What causes a thigh contusion?

A thigh contusion (bruise) is usually caused by a direct hit to your quadriceps muscle. Usually, this happens during contact or extreme sports, but any direct blow to your thigh could cause a contusion.

What are the risk factors for a thigh contusion?

Thigh contusions are more common in people who play sports. You may get injured while playing contact sports, like football or lacrosse. Or you may develop a thigh contusion because of a fall while participating in activities such as snowboarding, skiing or skateboarding. Thigh contusions can also result from other traumatic injuries like car accidents.

Several factors can affect your risk of developing a thigh contusion, including your:

  • Cool-down and warm-up practices.
  • Frequency of contact sports activity.
  • Protective equipment use.
  • Level of physical fitness.

Other risk factors for a thigh contusion include:

  • Age, with people who are older being more likely to develop a severe injury.
  • Nutrition, with a poor diet increasing your injury risk.
  • Medical history, including whether you have a bleeding disorder.
  • Smoking, which constricts blood flow and impedes healing.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is a thigh contusion diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will physically examine the injury to diagnose a thigh contusion. They may apply slight pressure to different parts of your thigh, test your knee’s range of motion or evaluate your quadriceps strength.

They may also use tests that view your soft tissues, like:

  • MRIs, using magnets and radio waves to view your muscles and soft tissues.
  • Ultrasounds, using high-frequency sound waves to view the inside of your body.

You may have tests such as CT scans or X-rays if your provider thinks you have a bone bruise, fracture or myositis ossificans.

Management and Treatment

How do you treat a thigh contusion?

Most people heal from a thigh contusion with rest and over-the-counter medication. Depending on the injury severity, a provider may recommend:

  • RICE method: Your provider may advise you to follow the RICE method, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. You should avoid activities that increase pain and apply an ice pack a few times a day. You may also wrap an elastic bandage around your thigh to decrease swelling. Elevate your leg and place a pillow beneath your thigh and knee when seated.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Over-the-counter medicines can help relieve pain and decrease inflammation while the contusion heals. You shouldn’t use NSAIDs for more than a few days to a week.
  • Physical therapy: Moderate to severe thigh contusions may require physical therapy. Physical therapy typically involves a set of prescribed exercises that you complete during in-office visits and at home between appointments. Your physical therapist may also massage your thigh or stimulate your tissues with small electrical currents (electrotherapy). These treatments can reduce pain and promote healing.
  • Surgery: In rare, extreme cases, your provider may need to perform a procedure to remove bony growths. Surgery is usually only necessary for people who develop myositis ossificans.


How can I reduce my risk of a thigh contusion?

You can lower your risk of a thigh contusion by:

  • Training properly to lower your risk of overloading your quadriceps.
  • Warming up and cooling down before and after sports.
  • Wearing protective equipment during contact sports and extreme activities.

Outlook / Prognosis

How long does a thigh contusion take to heal?

Mild thigh contusions usually heal within five to seven days. Moderate to severe contusions may take two or more months to heal.

It’s important not to resume intense physical activity until your healthcare provider clears you to do so. You may start to feel better in fewer than two months, but the contusion may not have healed fully.

Living With

When should I see my healthcare provider for a thigh contusion?

You may not need to see a healthcare provider for a mild thigh contusion. These injuries usually heal with at-home treatments. See a healthcare provider if you experience symptoms of a moderate to severe thigh contusion, including:

  • Difficulty putting weight on your injured leg.
  • Inability to bend your knee past 90 degrees.
  • Rapid, severe swelling.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about a thigh contusion?

If you have a thigh contusion or think you could, you may also want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What can I do at home to decrease pain?
  • Do I need physical therapy to heal?
  • When can I return to sports?
  • What can I do to prevent a thigh contusion in the future?

Additional Common Questions

Should you stretch a thigh contusion?

Ask your healthcare provider when you can stretch your quadriceps after a thigh contusion. They’ll likely advise you to avoid stretching for several days or longer. Your provider may recommend strengthening and stretching exercises after the initial pain and swelling decrease.

Should you use heat on a thigh contusion?

No, you shouldn’t use heat on a thigh contusion. Heat can increase swelling and delay healing.

When can I return to sports after a thigh contusion?

How quickly you can return to sports depends on how severe the contusion is. Your healthcare provider will likely clear you to return when you’re pain-free and can fully extend and flex your hip and knee. In mild cases, this may take about a week. More severe cases may take several months to heal.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Playing sports can be a great way to stay active and healthy, but it’s important to be aware of the possible injuries. Thigh contusions commonly affect people who play contact or extreme sports. They usually occur when you experience a direct, hard hit to your thigh. Some thigh contusions are mild and heal with at-home treatment. More severe injuries require a long healing period. Always warm up before playing sports and wear the proper protective equipment to lower your risk of injury.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/28/2023.

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