Vastus lateralis trigger points cause pain for people when they walk, run and stand. Vastus Lateralis is a big muscle – one of four muscles that make up the quadriceps. Quadriceps means four heads, and this name is usually shortened as the ‘quads.’
These quads are the muscles that run on the front, inner and outer side of your thigh. In medical terms, that’s the anterior, medial, and lateral aspects of your thigh. The biggest of those muscles is the vastus lateralis, which runs down the outside of your thigh. It arises from a broad attachment to the femur which occurs just below the hip joint. It inserts in a broad tendon to the top of your kneecap, or patella.
When the vastus lateralis contracts, it will straighten your leg and pull the patella upwards. The patella has another tendon attached to the tibia and so this contraction will extend and straighten your knee. The vastus lateralis gets a lot of work in a normal day because it’s utterly vital for walking and running.
In the same way as many other muscles, the vastus lateralis has two functions. The one is a movement function, which is it will straighten your knee. The second is a stabilizing function. It has to work together with a number of other muscles and therefore often gets trigger points.
Vastus lateralis trigger points are mainly located in the main belly of the muscle. Most of them are in the midsection of the vastus lateralis muscle and what you get is pain locally where the trigger points are.
As you bring your foot down onto the ground when you’re running or walking, the vastus lateralis will contract to stop your knee from buckling. It would keep your knee straight. You have a stabilizing function and you have an an action function.
Most people will feel pain from vastus lateralis trigger points during its stabilizing function. As your foot comes down and it contracts to stop your knee from buckling forward, the vastus lateralis will contract, and at that point, most people will feel pain in their leg.
The pain is a deep, localized pain which run in the band from where the trigger is and then down the side of the leg, over the knee. The higher triggers can cause pain that runs up your leg and extends over the lateral buttock and hip area.
The treatment is to find the triggers and treat them in the usual way. You can self massage these trigger points using the schemic pressure principle. They’re superficial trigger points, and not hard to get to. You can also dry needle these triggers or do trigger point injections. After each treatment, it’s important to apply heat and stretch.
The stretch for vastus lateralis is simple. You bend your knee as far as it’ll go, gently deepening the stretch.
The one other method of treatment which can be quite painful is to use a foam roller. This is helpful because the vastus lateralis is only one of a number of structures that cause pain down the side of your leg.
The others are the iliotibial band, which is a very strong fibrous band which runs down the side of your leg. This iliotibial band (or ITB), can become irritated and painful.
There’s also a muscle called the tensor fasciae latae, which inserts into the iliotibial band, and the gluteus minimus muscle, a deep muscle in the buttock.
These three structurs can give you pain running in the same zone. Often it’s because they all dance together to do the same stabilizing, which occurs as you put your foot on the ground. Therefore somebody treating pain in the outer side of the thigh needs to look at all four structures: the vastus lateralis, gluteus minimus, iliotibial band, and tensor fascia latae.
To find out more on treating trigger points, get a free trigger point manual and mini-course here.