If you’re reading this, you’re dealing with some nasty pain in your vastus lateralis muscle.
Trust me, I know how you feel. After four knee surgeries (two of them being ACL reconstructions), I had to deal with this too. The pain was almost unbearable, but I was able to overcome it.
It’s not fun, but don’t worry; we’ll get through this together.
In this article, we will talk about what triggers this kind of muscle pain, how to spot the symptoms, and most importantly, how to get rid of it so you can get back to your life.
As a specialist in knee health and a doctor of occupational therapy, I am committed to providing clear, practical advice based on my extensive experience and educational expertise. My goal is to help you alleviate pain and restore your muscles to optimal condition.
So, let’s dive in!
- The vastus lateralis is a critical muscle in the quadriceps group that plays a crucial role in extending the knee joint and stabilizing the patella during physical activities, such as walking and running.
- Symptoms such as lateral leg, knee, and thigh pain and numbness and tingling can indicate vastus lateralis pain stemming from trigger points, requiring proper treatment to alleviate discomfort and prevent complications.
- A comprehensive treatment approach for vastus lateralis pain includes heat and ice therapy, massage, stretching and strengthening exercises, acupuncture or dry needling, trigger point releases, and physical therapy to enhance recovery and prevent future injuries.
Understanding the Vastus Lateralis Muscle
Let’s chat about those muscles in your thigh. You’ve got four big ones, and together, they form a group called the quadriceps muscles. The quadriceps muscles are the rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and the one we’re focusing on, the vastus lateralis.
The vastus lateralis is a big deal. Unlike the other muscles in the quad group, it’s chilling on the outer side of your thigh, helping you do things like walking, running, and even standing up straight.
The vastus lateralis muscle originates at the greater trochanter and the lateral lip of the linea aspera of the femur, which is near the hip.
The lateral quadriceps tendon, with the other quadriceps muscle tendons, share a common insertion at the tibial tubercle. The tibial tubercle is a specific point on the tibia bone in the shin. Through their quadriceps tendon, they connect to the patella, allowing them to extend the knee joint collaboratively.
If you’re feeling pain on the outer side of your knee or leg, the vastus lateralis is likely involved. We’ll get into that more, but know that understanding this muscle and how it works is a big step towards getting you back on your feet pain-free!
Together with the vastus medialis, this muscle helps keep the proper tension around the kneecap, which helps with stability while reducing injury risks. Keeping a balance between these two muscles helps with the correct placement and movement of the patella, making your knees stronger and more resilient overall.
Identifying Vastus Lateralis Pain
Trigger points in the vastus lateralis muscle can cause referred pain often felt on the outer thigh, knee, and occasionally even at the back of the knee. This discomfort may also be accompanied by numbness or tingling sensations, tenderness, and radiating pain around the greater trochanter area by the hip.
These symptoms usually mean the vastus lateralis muscle is strained or overworked, or the pain radiates from a nearby issue.
Knowing these signs can help you act fast to ease the pain and stop any further problems from happening.
Common Causes of Vastus Lateralis Pain
Imagine running around all day playing your favorite sport, and suddenly, you feel a twinge on the outside of your thigh. It’s not just any ache – it’s a specific kind of knee pain right where your vastus lateralis muscle is on the outside of the leg.
This muscle helps you run, jump, and even walk around.
But sometimes, it can get overworked and cause you discomfort.
This can happen for several reasons, and we will dive into them. A big one is the iliotibial band – a long, rubbery band running down the side of your leg. When this band gets tight, it can cause a lot of pain in your vastus lateralis.
Below are some of the other most common causes that can make this muscle hurt:
- Overuse or strain from excessive running or jumping
- Lumbar stenosis
- Irritating the nerves of your back like the lumbar nerve
- patellofemoral stress syndrome or runner’s knee
- Direct trauma or injury to the muscle
- Imbalance in muscle strength between the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis
- Poor posture or biomechanics during physical activity
- Lack of proper warm-up before exercise
- Spending too much time in a seated position
One or a few of the above can cause your lateral thigh to be overtaken with pain. But don’t worry, we’re about to dive into how to identify these pesky trigger points and their referred pain, so stick around!
Vastus Lateralis Trigger Points and Referred Pain
There are multiple trigger points of the vastus lateralis muscle. One of the primary trigger points is a couple of finger widths below the hip bone in the middle of the lateral thigh.
This muscle is known for developing multiple trigger points that can cause pain outside the thigh and knee and movement issues such as walking with a stiff leg and dragging one foot due to a “stuck patella.”
If these areas become inflamed, you might also feel numbness, tingling, tenderness, and a radiating discomfort near the greater trochanter region. This region is the bony bit you can feel if you touch the side of your hip.
If you’re dealing with pain in your thigh or knee, it’s super important to identify these trigger points and their referral patterns. That’s how we make sure we’re treating the right thing.
Associated Muscles and Trigger Points
When discussing the vastus lateralis muscle, we must mention a couple of its pals. We’ve got the gluteus minimus, which is linked to our vastus lateralis through the proximal tendon near the top. And then there’s the tensor fasciae latae. If this guy gets too tight, it can pull on the iliotibial band, which can hurt your vastus lateralis.
We also must remember the other muscles in the quadriceps muscle group found on the femur or thigh bone. These include the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis. They’re all part of the same team, so if one gets hurt, it can affect the others, too, further contributing to knee pain.
Transitioning to Treatment: The Path to Pain Relief
Now that we have a solid understanding of the vastus lateralis muscle, its function, and the expected trigger points of pain in this area, it’s time to discuss what matters most: treatment.
Knowing that you don’t have to live with this discomfort is essential. There are numerous methods to alleviate vastus lateralis knee pain, and we’re about to explore them. From traditional physical therapy to alternative treatments, let’s dive into the options that can help you get back to a pain-free life.
Using Trigger Points to Treat Lateral Knee Pain
Are you ready to tackle those nasty trigger points in your vastus lateralis muscle?
Well, you’re in luck! We’ve found a helpful video guide showing how to roll out these trigger points using a foam roller.
If you’re not familiar with foam rolling, don’t sweat it! It’s a simple technique that can help ease muscle tension and reduce pain.
You’ll use the foam roller to apply pressure to specific points on your muscle, like a deep tissue massage.
In this video, you’ll see precisely how to position the foam roller and use your body weight to apply the right amount of pressure. You’ll also learn how to adjust the technique to target different areas of the vastus lateralis muscle.
Remember, taking it slow and listening to your body is essential. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and adjust your position.
Ready to get started? Check out the video here!
Rehabilitation Strategies for Vastus Lateralis Injuries
When it comes to healing injuries to the vastus lateralis muscle, there are a few key strategies you should know about. These include heat and ice therapy, massage, and stretching and strengthening exercises.
These methods can help ease the discomfort caused by injuries to the vastus lateralis and speed up the recovery process.
Massage is important when trying to heal a damaged vastus lateralis. It can help lessen the lateral leg pain while improving circulation and making your tissues more flexible. This gets your muscles ready for more intense activities like stretching exercises. These are good for improving movement, especially if you have trigger points in this muscle group.
Stretching is a big deal when recovering from an injury to your vastus lateralis. It helps improve movement in your quad and the potentially damaged surrounding muscles.
Besides the physical benefits, athletes often find that they can concentrate better when they do exercises focusing on the areas affected by the vastus lateralis after finishing rehab.
Preventing Future Vastus Lateralis Pain
Maintaining proper leg muscle balance, flexibility, and strength is crucial for preventing discomfort in this area and ensuring your injured vastus lateralis muscles heal. Incorporating stretching and strengthening exercises targeting this muscle is highly recommended.
Practical exercises to strengthen and stretch the vastus lateralis include
- leg press with a close stance
- barbell squats
As well as stretches like:
- butterfly stretch
- pigeon stretch
- couch stretch
It is advisable to perform these routines once weekly for strength and two to three times daily for stretching to alleviate the vastus lateralis trigger point pain.
To avoid future issues with the vastus lateralis muscle group, it is essential to regularly engage in strengthening and stretching activities focusing on this area. You certainly don’t want to have a surgery, like I did.
The Role of Physical Therapy in Vastus Lateralis Pain Management
Working with a professional like a physical therapist is essential in treating vastus lateralis pain because they provide interventions that help alleviate discomfort and improve muscle function and mobility.
Through various techniques, physical therapy can significantly benefit those suffering from injuries to this specific muscle group by enhancing tissue flexibility, range of motion, strength, coordination, and balance.
Massage aids in increasing tissue mobility, while stretching exercises target improved flexibility and a more comprehensive range of motion.
Strengthening exercises are also incorporated into physical therapy to promote better stability and functionality within the affected muscles.
This comprehensive approach contributes significantly to reducing pain levels associated with vastus lateralis injuries.
In addition to its benefits on the injured area, physical therapy also positively affects other related muscle groups, such as the contralateral quadriceps.
By addressing issues like poor coordination or postural imbalances through tailored exercise routines during rehabilitation sessions, you can fully heal from your vastus lateralis strain and, hopefully, prevent future injuries. A physical therapist is the perfect professional to ensure your vastus lateralis muscle works just how it needs to.
Alternative Treatments for Vastus Lateralis Pain
Acupuncture and dry needling are promising techniques for reducing persistent lateral-sided pain in the knee joint and promoting recovery. These approaches target specific trigger points within the muscle to alleviate discomfort associated with this condition.
Due to the complex nature of identifying taut bands and treating widespread trigger point presence in the vastus lateralis, it is crucial to have an experienced practitioner administer these treatments. With their expertise, they can ensure the precise application of acupuncture or dry needling, resulting in significant relief from painful symptoms related to this muscle group.
As someone who’s had four knee surgeries and has dealt with this issue, I can tell you firsthand that the vastus lateralis muscle is a big deal. This muscle helps keep your knee steady and allows you to move your leg.
Knowing how it works, spotting the signs of pain, and understanding what causes it helps you manage and prevent discomfort.
That makes sense, right?
Now, if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, doc, I’m already feeling the pain,” don’t worry; I’ve been there, too!
And I’ve got good news: there are loads of solutions! From treatments like acupuncture and dry needling to physical therapy and even techniques like foam rolling, there are many ways to recover and help get rid of that pain quickly.
By incorporating these strategies into your daily routine, you can keep your muscles healthy, balanced, and pain-free.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my vastus lateralis hurting?
The vastus lateralis muscle may hurt due to trigger points or a single trigger point, activated by sudden stress, activities involving lengthening contractions, or direct trauma and injuries.
Proper warm-up before activity can help prevent tears and injuries in the muscles.
How do you release tight vastus lateralis?
To loosen a tight vastus lateralis, you can do various stretches, including the couch stretch. This stretch has been the MVP in me getting rid of my lateral leg pain.
Between the couch stretch and using a foam roller over the trigger point on my outer leg that is bothering me, I have eliminated this type of pain from my life.
How long does a vastus lateralis take to heal?
The healing process for a vastus lateralis muscle can take six weeks or longer. If the strain or sprain is minor, it may improve after one or two weeks of rest. The indication that complete healing has occurred is when no more pain symptoms and the full range of motion in the leg can be achieved.
During this period, a gradual rehabilitation plan should be implemented as advised by medical professionals.
Where are your quads?
Your quadriceps muscles are situated at the front portion of your thigh, positioned between your knee and hip. They connect to several areas, including your pelvis, hip bones, thighbone (femur), and kneecaps.
What is the primary function of the vastus lateralis muscle?
The central role of the vastus lateralis muscle is to straighten the knee joint and support the kneecap during movements such as walking, jogging, and ascending stairs.
About the Author
Hi there! I’m Dr. Keagen Hadley, OTD, OTR/L. Straight out of the University of Mary, I’m all about blending my know-how in knee health, well-being, and medical technology. As a licensed occupational therapy doc, I’m here to translate complex concepts into clear, actionable insights – whether it’s knee care or groundbreaking healthcare tech.