+Donna Martin
Nov 112012

What pain and symptoms are associated with the vastus lateralis?

Vastus lateralis muscle pain pattern

Pain in the hip extending down the side of the thigh and into the knee is a sign of vastus lateralis dysfunction.

  • Knee pain
  • Pain on the side of the thigh extending down into the front and back of the knee
  • Pain under the buttock extending toward the hip joint
  • Locked knee
  • Extended walking increases pain in the thigh and knee

Where is the vastus lateralis muscle?

The vastus lateralis muscle covers the outside of the thigh.  It attaches the hip to the knee. The vastus lateralis is one of four quadricep muscles.

What movements does the vastus lateralis muscle control?

  • Straightens the leg at the knee

Activities that cause vastus lateralis pain and symptoms:

  • Climbing
  • Skiing
  • Sitting excessively
  • Immobilizing the knee ie. casting, inflexible knee brace.

Interesting facts about the vastus lateralis:

  • It is the largest of the quadriceps muscles
  • Everyone has trigger points in the vastus lateralis.
  • ‘Growing pains’ in the knees and hips of children can often be traced to the vastus lateralis.

Clinical diagnoses to which this muscle symptoms may contribute:

Vastus lateralis muscle on outside of thigh

You use the vastus lateralis muscle to straighten the knee.

  • Locking patella syndrome
  • Floating Patella
  • Patella femoral dysfunction
  • Subluxation / dislocation of the knee
  • Buckling knee (Trick knee)
  • Chondromalacia patellae
  • Sprain/Strain of the thigh or knee
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament sprain or tear
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament sprain or tear
  • Torn meniscus (cartilage)
  • Quadriceps muscle tear
  • Iliotibial tract friction syndrome
  • Tendinitis
  • Bursitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Phantom leg pain with above knee amputation
  • Degenerative joint disease

Other muscles that should be considered and examined in conjunction with the vastus lateralis muscle:

Satellite Trigger Points: Gluteus Minimus

Affected Organ System: Digestive System

For Detailed Anatomy Information See: Vastus Lateralis Anatomy

Help with Vastus Lateralis Muscle Pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Gel provides pain relief.

Warm Therapy Gel for Vastus Lateralis Quadriceps Muscle Pain

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is a pain relieving gel that I use both personally and in my massage therapy practice. It provides warmth without burning heat and is great for relieving pain.  Applying Sombra to the muscles on the front and outside of the thigh down to the knee can help reduce pain and tightness caused by the vastus lateralis muscle. I recommend Sombra for chronic pain and chronically sore tight muscles.

Cold Therapy Gel For Vastus Lateralis Injury and Pain

Biofreeze is recommended for recent muscle injury

Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel is an excellent pain relieving gel and I recommend it for those who have sudden onset muscle pain or recent injuries.  It is better to use than warm therapy gels and creams for muscle pain caused by inflammation as it cools the area much like ice. A recent study showed that Biofreeze decreased pain 2 times more than ice and the pain relief lasts 9 – 10 longer. If  your pain is from a recently pulled quad muscle I would recommend Biofreeze.

Cold And Warm Pack For Quadriceps Muscles

Thigh or Quad Ice Wrap by Active Wrap 
The  Thigh or Quad Ice Wrap by Active Wrap can be used for warm or cold therapy. I like this pack because it can be adjusted and can be worn while you are up and moving. If you have chronically tight muscles in the front and outside of the thigh I suggest using this for heat. However, if the pain is caused from a recent injury I always recommend cold for 20 minutes several times a day.  Remember if you are using cold therapy to only apply for 20 minutes per hour to avoid tissue damage.



Braces and Supports To Help Quadriceps Injury and Pain


McDavid Thigh Brace Wrap covers the thigh and can be used for quadriceps support or rehabilitation. This support works well  for total thigh support as it covers most of the thigh.  Provides great compression and warmth to help maintain muscle mobility and reduce pain.


McDavid Groin Wrap is recommended for high quadriceps and groin pulls. This strap works well  for people who have pulled a quad muscle up high near the groin and need additional support. The strap in addition to the knee brace gives support along the length of the muscle. The strap has an adjustable Velcro closure so you can adjust the pressure as needed.

Professional’s Choice Miracle Knee Support

The quadriceps can contribute to stiff and painful knees. The Professional Choice Knee Support is one of the best knee braces I have used. It provides support to weak buckling knees and provides heat to help keep the muscle, ligaments, tendons and joint mobile. The two Velcro bands are adjustable and provide compression for the muscle to bone connection of the quadriceps muscles in the lower leg.  Although it looks bulky, it is comfortable and was made for people who need maximum support while retaining the ability to bend and straighten the knee. It does not bind or pinch. If you are prone to knee pain and buckling knees I highly recommend this brace. Purchase Information:  Professional’s Choice Miracle Knee Support

Massage Tools for Self Treatment of the Vastus Lateralis Muscles

I recommend the Tiger Tail 18″ Roller to use on both upper and lower leg muscles to help relieve tension and pain. I like the Tiger Tail for its ease of use and because it does not strain the wrists and hands. You do not have to contort into different positions or get on the floor or up against the wall to use this foam roller, simply roll it up or down the muscle. The 18″ is a good size to use on leg muscles as well as other muscles. It  is also recommended by physical therapists, athletic trainers and doctors for self treatment of muscles in between appointments. To use the roller on the vastus lateralis muscle start just above the knee toward the outside of the middle of the thigh, and roll up as high as possible. Cover the entire front and outside of the thigh. Start with light strokes for a minute or two and build into more pressure and more time. Do not overdo as you can irritate the muscles!

Self  Treatment for Vastus Lateralis Muscle Pain

The Trigger Point Workbook can help you resolve muscle pain throughout your body.

Do you know that small knots in the vastus lateralis muscle can contribute to pain at the bottom of the buttock, hip, outside thigh to the knee? If this pain pattern sounds familiar  I  recommend that you purchase Claire Davies  The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. Mr. Davies explain the trigger point phenomenon and muscle pain in everyday language.  But what makes this book worth its weight in gold are the individual muscle trigger point treatments that Davies has compiled. His diagrams and step by step instructions help you locate which muscles are contributing to your pain,  how to find the trigger point and treat it. He also provides stretching and strengthening exercises for each muscle.  It takes time and practice to master finding trigger points, but once you learn you have a tool and method to help relieve muscle pain throughout the body.  If you have unresolved hip and thigh pain that runs down into the knee it maybe trigger points in the vastus lateralis muscles. Deactivating trigger points can reduce or eliminate this pain. This book is a must have for anyone interested in finding the cause and treating muscle pain.


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