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Vastus Lateralis Muscle: Hip, Thigh, Knee Pain

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
  • Pain occasionally descends into the back of the calf
  • Locked knee
  • Difficulty straightening the knee after sitting
  • Extended walking increases pain in the thigh and knee
  • Inability to sleep on affected side

Where is the vastus lateralis muscle?

The vastus lateralis muscle covers the outside of the thigh.  It attaches the upper leg (femur) to the knee (patella) and shin bone (tibia). 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
Vastus lateralis muscle on outside of thigh

You use the vastus lateralis muscle to straighten the knee.

Clinical diagnoses to which the vastus lateralis muscle symptoms may contribute:

  • 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
  • Phantom leg pain with above knee amputation
  • L2 L3 or L4 radiculopathy

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

Satellite Trigger Points: Gluteus Minimus, Rectus Femoris, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Medialis, Biceps Femoris, Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus, Tensor Fascia Latae, Iliopsoas

Associated Organ System: Digestive System

For Detailed Anatomy Information See: Vastus Lateralis Anatomy

Help with Vastus Lateralis Muscle Pain

Cold Therapy Gel For Vastus Lateralis Injury and Pain

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 vastus lateralis quadriceps muscle I would recommend Biofreeze.

Biofreeze is recommended for recent vastus lateralis muscle injury

Cold Therapy Gel For Vastus Lateralis Injury and Pain

The Pro Ice Quad Multipurpose Cold Therapy Wrap is a good choice to provide cold therapy to both quadriceps and hamstring injuries. The wrap not only provides a consistent temperature but also provides compression which is important for reducing swelling and aiding in faster recovery.

cold pack for hamstring injury

Warm Therapy Gel for Vastus Lateralis 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 side and back of the thigh, down into the knee can help reduce pain and tightness caused by the vastus lateralis muscles. I recommend Sombra for chronic pain and chronically sore tight quadriceps muscles.

Sombra Warm Therapy Gel provides vastus lateralis pain relief.

Braces and Supports To Help Vastus Lateralis Injury and Pain

Thigh Wrap For Support and Compression

McDavid Thigh Brace Wrap covers the thigh and can be used for quadriceps support and rehabilitation. This support works well if your pain is more in the upper thigh area. Provides great compression and warmth to help maintain muscle mobility and reduce pain. Sizing: SM 18 to 20 inches, Med 20 to 22 inches, LG 22 to 25 inches, XL 25 to 28 inches.


Knee Brace for Vastus Lateralis Knee Pain

The vastus lateralis muscle can contribute to stiff knees that have a tendency to lock. Professional Choice Knee Support is one of the best knee braces I have used. It provides support to weak buckling and painful knees while providing heat to help keep the muscle, ligaments, tendons and joint mobile. The two Velcro bands are adjustable and allow you to adjust the compression. Although it looks bulky, it is comfortable and was made for people who ride horses who bend and straighten their knees for extended periods of time. It does not bind or pinch. If you are prone to knee injury and buckling knees I highly recommend this brace.

Professionals Choice Knee Brace

Compression Leggings for Quadriceps Muscle Support

Compression wear is not just preventative wear for exercise. Compression wear can also aid in muscle injury support and reduce swelling during recovery time. If you are considering compression wear look for graduated compression. Graduated compression provides tight compression at the lower end of your limb and gradually decreases compressive force toward the top of the limb. This is important for circulation and inflammation reduction. To support the vastus lateralis muscle it is important that you use leggings that go down past the knee so you treat the full length of the muscle. Compression leggings for men as well compression leggings for women come in all sizes, have a choice of colors and are available in various price points. The leggings can be worn alone or under pants.

Tools for Self Treatment of the Vastus Lateralis Muscles

Foam Roller For Vastus Lateralis Muscle Pain

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. This roller is also recommended by physical therapists, athletic trainers and doctors for self-treatment of muscles in between appointments. To use the Tiger Tail on the vastus lateralis muscle start on the side of the leg just below the hip joint, rolling down the side of the leg to the knee. 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!

Tiger Tail Foam Roller for Vastus Lateralis Muscle

Self Treatment for Vastus Lateralis Muscle Pain

Do you know that small knots or other dysfunction 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 explains 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. 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.

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

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