Vastus Lateralis Muscle Pain & Tear

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  • 0:03 Injury
  • 0:17 Vastus Lateralis
  • 1:04 Vastus Lateralis Tear
  • 1:27 Diagnosis
  • 2:24 Treatment
  • 3:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Unfried

Alexandra earned her master's degree in nursing education and is currently a hospital supervisor/administrator.

The vastus lateralis is one of the four muscles located in the quadriceps muscles. This lesson will discuss muscle pain and tears in the vastus lateralis, including symptoms and treatment.


Simon has been biking to work daily for several months. On his way home from work he got a sharp pain in the outer top portion of his left thigh. Once Simon got off his bike and walked inside, he started to notice some swelling and bruising as well.

Vastus Lateralis

The vastus lateralis muscle is part of the four muscles that make up the quadriceps. The other three muscles in the quadriceps are the vastus medialis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris. The vastus lateralis is the largest of the four muscles in the quadriceps and is located in the outer top of the thigh.

The vastus lateralis muscle connects the femur to the knee cap and is responsible for extending the lower leg and pushing the body up from a sitting position. The muscle is used for many movements, including walking, running, cycling, kicking, and jumping.

Simon appears to have overworked his left vastus lateralis from biking to and from work. He has been trying to get in shape and has been taking the stairs more often. His muscle is strained, and he now has a tear in his left vastus lateralis.

Vastus Lateralis Tear

A strain on the muscle will cause it to tear. There is a range of injury that can occur, starting with a small tear and ending with a complete rupture. Most tears of the vastus lateralis are caused by activity done without a proper warm-up. The muscle does not have time to stretch out before use and can tear. Pain that occurs after trauma, such as getting hit with a ball, is more likely to cause a contusion or bruise.


Simon makes an appointment to see his doctor because he is having pain every time he moves his leg and when he lies down on his left side. He limps into the doctor's office and explains to the doctor that he has been biking to work and taking the stairs for several months in order to improve his health. These are the symptoms that Simon reports to his doctor:

  • Weakness and limping in the affected leg
  • Sharp pain to the outer portion of the leg
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Pain that begins at the top of the leg and radiates down to the knee
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Limited range of motion

No further tests are done at this point. The doctor recognizes the symptoms, does a few range of motion tests, and diagnoses Simon with a tear to his vastus lateralis muscle. If the doctor is unsure of the injury, he could complete a blood test called a CPK (creatine phosphokinase) to check for muscle damage, or do an x-ray or MRI to make sure the muscle or tendon is not ruptured.


Since the vastus lateralis muscle is not ruptured, surgery is not required. Simon will need to take it easy for several weeks. Treatment includes:

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