Vastus Medialis Strain and Trigger Point Pain Differences

Contents of Article:

Where Is The Vastus Medialis Muscle?

The vastus medialis muscle attaches to the thigh bone (femur) below the hip joint and travels down to attach to the knee (patella) and shin bone (tibia).


What Movements Does The Vastus Medialis Control?

The vastus medialis straightens the leg at the knee and helps to stabilize the kneecap (patella).

For detailed anatomy information:  Vastus Medialis Muscle Anatomy

Vastus Medialis Muscle Pain

The vastus medialis muscle causes pain in the front and inside of the thigh that usually includes the knee. Pain caused by a muscle strain can occur anywhere along the muscle which runs from just under the hip joint to the knee.

Trigger point pain tends to concentrate in the knee but can radiate up into the front and inside of the thigh. A classic symptom of trigger points in the vastus medialis is a buckling weak knee.

Muscle strains and trigger point pain have some similarities but require different treatments. It is important to understand the pain symptoms of a strain and pain pattern of trigger points to determine a treatment plan.

Vastus Medialis Trigger Points Signs and Symptoms

Trigger points in the vastus medialis affect the knee and can cause pain to radiate into the inside of the lower thigh. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain on the inside of the lower knee extending up into the inside and front of the lower thigh
  • Persistent pain in the knee joint
  • The knee feels weak
  • Can cause the knee to ‘buckle’ (trick knee)
  • A tendency to walk with toes turned out
  • People often sleep with a pillow between the knees to relieve the pain
Vastus Medialis Pain Referred Pattern Vastus Medialis Pain Pattern: Pain in the knee that can radiate up into the inside of the front of the thigh. The knee may feel weak and buckle while walking, running, and climbing.

What Activities Contribute To Trigger Points In The Vastus Medialis?

  • Runners and joggers frequently develop TrPs in the muscle
  • Activities that require repetitive kneeling
  • Deep knee bends (think squats)
  • Over-doing exercises on step masters, elliptical machines
  • Walking down stairs and inclines
  • Weak ankles that tend to collapse toward the inside
  • Walking with your body weight distributed on the outside of your foot

Also keep in mind that trigger points often develop as or after an injury to the leg, hip, abdomen, and lower back.

How To Avoid Development of Trigger Points In The Vastus Medialis Muscle

  • Take time to warm up before exercise and other strenuous activities.
  • Take time to stretch out upper and lower leg muscles after running and exercise
  • When walking down stairs or inclines make sure your foot lands straight, not turned in or out
  • Ease into deep squats, don’t try and go past your muscles limits
  • If you have persistent weakness in the ankles seek out a professional trainer to help you strengthen and balance foot, lower and upper leg muscles. Consider using an ankle brace for extra support.

Vastus Medialis Trigger Point Treatment

Trigger points in the vastus medialis are fairly easy to treat. Trigger point therapy is most effective when the TrPs are treated several times during the day for 1-2 minutes per treatment. Consistency is important for optimal treatment outcome.

The easiest way to learn about specific trigger points is to find a physical therapist, massage therapist, or chiropractor with trigger point therapy training. A trained professional can show you how to find and treat the TrPs.

Another option is to learn to self-treatment. It is not hard to learn, but it takes a little time and patience to learn the feel and locations of TrPs.  The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is one of the best resources to learn how to find and treat your trigger points. The nice thing about learning self-treatment is you will then have the skills to relieve and possibly eliminate may other types of muscle pain.

TWD Suggestions For Vastus Medialis Trigger Points

The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook is the best resource to learn how to treat and manage your muscle pain. Learn the methods and have the knowledge to relieve muscle pain throughout the body.

Buy at Amazon

Sombra Warm Therapy Pain Relieving Gel is highly recommended for trigger point and chronic pain relief. It relaxes the muscles without the burning heat of other creams. (not sold in stores)

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The Physix Gear Knee Sleeve is recommended for those who that need additional support for weak painful knees. The graduated compression helps with circulation as well as support.

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The ComfiLife Knee Pillow was developed for side sleepers to keep your leg aligned with your hip and spine decreasing your pain while you sleep. Recommended for injury and chronic pain sufferers.

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How Long Before I Feel A Reduction In Pain?

Depending on the number and density of the trigger points you may notice a considerable reduction in pain and stiffness in as little as 2-5 days. For some, there is a noticeable difference after 1-2 treatments. The key is consistency in your treatments and continuing treatment until the trigger point(s) are gone.

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

Satellite trigger points associated with the vastus medialis muscle:

Interesting facts about the vastus medialis muscle:

  • A trigger point in the vastus medialis can cause the knee to buckle unexpectedly. If this trigger point is not released and the muscle is stretched to try and relieve symptoms, knee pain and knee weakness will worsen.
  • Pain, weakness, and buckling in the knee is often diagnosed as knee arthritis, tendinitis, or ligament damage.

Vastus Medialis Muscle Pain and Symptoms Can Be Similar To, Contribute To, and Be Affected By These Medical diagnoses:

  • Patella femoral dysfunction
  • Chondromalacia patella
  • Floating Patella
  • Buckling knee (trick knee)
  • Sprain/ Strain of the thigh or knee
  • Phantom leg pain with above knee amputation
  • Anterior Cruciate Ligament sprain or tear
  • Posterior Cruciate Ligament sprain or tear
  • Torn meniscus (cartilage)
  • Iliotibial tract friction syndrome
  • L2 L3 or L4 radiculopathy


Vastus Medialis Muscle Strain Pain

Pain caused by a vastus medialis muscle strain is sudden and felt at the time it happens. A strain can occur at any point in the muscle with the pain being felt anywhere from the top of the inside of the front of the thigh, down to the knee.

A mild (Grade I) strain happens when a few fibers in the muscle are torn. You will feel a twinge or pulling sensation when it happens. There may be discomfort, but it usually does not affect normal activity. Some redness, minor bruising and swelling may occur.

A moderate strain (Grade II) involves the tearing of a significant number of muscle fibers. The pain is immediate and you may feel a popping or tearing sensation in the muscle. Pain and weakness will likely cause a limp and will affect many activities. Depending on the severity of the tear redness, bruising and swelling may be visible right away or develop over the following hours and days.

Severe strains (Grade III) occur when most or all the fibers of the muscle tear. The pain is immediate and incapacitating, often causing you to fall or immediately go to the ground. Putting weight on the leg will be extremely painful or impossible. Redness, bruising, and swelling is often visible right away.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Mild strains will cause a twinge or pulling sensation. Pain and discomfort are mild.
  • Moderate and severe strains – a pop and/or tearing sensation is felt in the muscle. Pain is sharp and immediate.
  • The area around the strain may feel warm or even hot.
  • Tightening the muscles in the front of the thigh causes discomfort or pain
  • Moving the leg can be painful.
  • Fully bending and especially straightening the knee is painful.
  • Walking is painful and will cause you to limp. It may be impossible to put weight on the leg if the strain is moderate or severe.
  • Redness and bruising develop on the inside of the thigh and/or knee.
  • Swelling around the area where the strain occurred.
  • A bump or indentation may be felt where the fiber tears occurred.
Muscle man kneeling on all fours

Deep squats and repetitive kneeling strains the vastus medialis causing soreness and the possible development of trigger points

What Causes A Vastus Medialis Strain Injury?

Vastus medialis strains usually occur during sports activities or during exercise. The most common cause of a vastus medialis strain is a direct hit to the muscle in sports. Other common causes are sudden bursts of speed or sudden stops when running, quick changes in direction, and repetitive vertical jumping.

Sports and activities that contribute to vastus medialis injury:

  • Contact Sports
    • Hockey
    • Rugby
    • Soccer
    • Football
    • Basketball
  • Over-use and Repetitive Motions
    • Running
    • Cycling
    • Skiing
    • Gymnastics
    • Exercises requiring deep knee bends
    • Walking or running down flights of stairs or steep inclines
    • Overuse of a Stairmaster or elliptical machine

Vastus Medialis Strain Treatment

The majority of vastus medialis strains are mild and moderate and can be safely treated at home using the P.R.I.C.E. protocol.

Begin the P.R.I.C.E. protocol as soon as possible:
  • Protect – Use an Ace bandage or Velcro wrap to help stabilize and restrict movement of moderate and severe strains.
  • Rest – Rest the leg as much as possible. Rest also applies to allowing time for naps and extra sleep. Healing occurs while you are asleep.
  • Ice – To reduce swelling and pain you should use ice packs every 1-2 hours until pain and swelling start to decrease. Leave ice in place for 20 minutes per treatment, longer times may damage soft tissues.
  • Compression – Applying moderate pressure with an Ace bandage or Velcro wrap discourages swelling and provides support.
  • Elevation – Propping the leg up on pillows prevents fluids from accumulating around the injury and helps reduce pain and swelling.

Once swelling, heat, and redness have diminished begin alternating cold and heat treatments. Use cold for a 20-minute treatment, then wait 1-2 hours and apply heat for 20 minutes. Continue the P.R.I.C.E. protocol for 24-72 hours until the pain and swelling decrease.

When to see a doctor:

  • Intolerable pain levels
  • Rapid and excessive swelling and bruising
  • You are not able to move the leg or unable to put weight on the leg
  • Swelling, pain, redness, and heat have not lessened within 24-48 hours

How Long Does It Take A Vastus Medialis Strain To Heal?

  • Mild Grade I strains heal quickly usually within1-3 weeks
  • Moderate Grade II strains varies depending on the number of fibers torn. Most heal in 4-12 weeks
  • Severe Grade III strains require medical attention and can take anywhere from a few months up to a year to heal

TWD Suggestions For Vastus Medialis Strains

The Simple Spectra Clay Hot/Cold Wrap can be placed and secured high on the thigh, providing hot or cold treatment as well as compression which is important for recovery. The wrap can also be used on other areas of the body.

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Biofreeze Pain Relieving Gel cools the area much like ice discouraging inflammation. Provides excellent pain relief between cold treatments. Recommended by medical professionals and trainers.

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The Odofit Support Brace has 3 adjustable straps that allow you to adjust the compression to your needs.  The waistband holds the brace in place. One of the best for moderate and severe thigh and groin pain and injury.

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Tips To Avoid Vastus Medialis Strains

  • Taking time to warm up properly can save days, weeks, and months of pain, discomfort, and downtime.
  • When walking or running down inclines or flights of stairs, keep your feet pointing straight ahead and try to avoid rolling the ankle and foot to the inside or outside.
  • If you have injured your ankle or have weak ankles consider using an ankle brace until the foot and lower leg muscles are strengthened.
  • If the muscle feels weak, sore, or is injured, take recovery days to rest and allow the muscle time to heal. Take recovery days. Give the muscles time to rest and recover.

More Pain Relief and Support Suggestions from TWD:

The products listed below are products that I use and highly recommend to my clients and customers. If you regularly work out, run, bike, or hike, and have problems with quadriceps tightness and/or knee pain, these products provide relief and allow you to enjoy your activities.

The Professional Choice Knee Brace is one of the best on the market. Comfortable to wear and it provides support without binding. The brace helps hold the kneecap in place.

If you are an athlete or exercise aficionado the Freeze Sleeve provides excellent cold compression treatments to quads, hammys, and knees. 

The CW-X Men’s Endurance Pro Tights were made specifically to support quads, hammys, and knees. Highly recommended for runners and cyclists.

The CW-X Women’s Endurance Pro Tights are made for women who participate in activities that stress the hamstrings, quads, and knees. 

The TriggerPoint Roller is excellent for rolling out the quadriceps and hamstrings  A good choice if you are prone to TrPs in the leg muscles.

Upper body injury? Limited strength in arms or hands? The Tiger Tail Roller is made to help you keep your muscles rolled out and trigger point free.

Donna Martin

Massage Therapist Owner: Twelve years of experience working with clients with chronic pain, post injury pain, and post surgery pain. Muscle dysfunction is often overlooked but can hold the key to many pain conditions.