The Vastus Lateralis is the outer quadricep that runs laterally along the thigh. It is part of a larger group of muscles known as the quadriceps. These muscles are the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Lateralis, and Vastus Medialis. It is one of the most illusive areas when it comes to stretching. Lucky for you we have done all the hard work so that you can sit back relax and follow along with the Vastus Lateralis stretches below.
Function of the Vastus Lateralis
The Vastus Lateralis supports the action of knee extension, hence it is a muscle that is highly utilised every day as it is essential for walking and standing up. The Vastus Lateralis also protects the knee from flexion.
When the Vastus Lateralis is tight you will feel pain in the lower back or knee. This can easily be mistaken for the ITB band.
The Vastus Lateralis muscle, along with your Iliotibial Band, form the lateral wall of your thigh. Tightness can affect how well the muscle glides along the ITB there for if the muscle is tight it can cause irritation to the ITB. This is known as Iliotibial band friction syndrome.
The best way to avoid this is to stretch out your Vastus Lateralis!
What causes a tight vastus lateralis?
There are many factors that can cause the quadriceps to be tight. One of the major factors is overuse as we are walking, sitting and standing all day.
If you run or cycle for a hobby or sport this can also tighten the Vastus Lateralis. Lastly pronation can affect the Vastus Lateralis because it weakens the inner thighs and puts more pressure on the outer quads.
Contraindications from a tight vastus lateralis
If the quads are extremely tight they can pull the front of hips down. This results in the external rotators tightening, creating weak tight glutes and lower back pain.
Combating anterior pelvic tilt needs a two pronged effect using stretching and strengthening drills.
If you are experiencing these symptoms try these 14 exercises for anterior pelvic tilt along with the vastus lateralis program below.
What causes pain in the Vastus Lateralis muscle?
Tightness in Vastus Lateralis can cause the knee cap to shift or tilt which can cause pain behind the knee and dislocation in extreme cases.
The role of agonist and antagonist
The agonist is the muscle that contracts being the the quadriceps and the antagonist the muscle group forced to relax in this motion is the hamstrings.
Think about the range of motion the leg takes when it moves from a bent knee in a seated position to extending the knee so that the leg is straight out in front of you. The quads naturally tighten when you are extending.
When the hamstrings are long and weak the quadriceps can tighten causing an imbalance in the body. As a society that spends a lot of time sitting, in fact sitting has been named the new smoking. In this position we are naturally lengthening the hamstrings and tightening the quads and hip flexors.
With that being said it is important to include a strengthening routine for the hamstrings as well as lengthening the quads.
How do you release the Vastus Lateralis?
Stretching and flossing the Vastus Lateralis is the best way to combat tightness and irritation.
Flossing the quads can be done with a peanut trigger point ball. This works not only on the muscle, it also includes the myofascial (muscle tissue) and the connective tissue in and around it (fascia).
“Since a trigger point is the contraction mechanism of the muscle locked into a shortened position, the treatment of the trigger point involves unlocking that contraction mechanism (sarcomere).
This can be achieved in several ways. Trigger Point Pressure Release (David Simons, MD and Janet Travell, MD) involves applying pressure with a finger or other instrument to the trigger point and increasing the pressure as the trigger point “releases” and softens.” – NAMTPT
Chiropractor Roy Nissim says: “Receiving trigger point therapy can help by alleviating pain, tension, and stress. This is because the tissue is able to glide more efficiently, and more blood flow is distributed to that tissue. The therapy can make you feel mentally and physically recharged.”
As the fibers of the Vastis Lateralis can irritate the ITB band you will want to apply trigger point release on the side of the outer thigh and the front outer thigh.
Laying down place your peanut a couple of inches above the knee. Bend and extend the knee to floss the muscle. Repeat several times. Then move the peanut up the thigh and repeat. Repeat this process until you reach the top of the thigh.
For the side of the Vastis Lateralis you want to lay on your side and place the peanut horizontally under the thigh. Lift your hips as though your are coming into a side plank to apply more pressure. You want to do this three times in the most painful area. Hold for 1 – 2 minutes. Then bring the ball back to the beginning and try to bend and extend from the knee. This one is bittersweet.
After flossing and trigger point therapy you want to immediately go into stretching for maximum benefits.
Stretches for the Vastus Lateralis
Knee to wall leg out to side.
- Starting in an upright lunge, with hips square and facing the front of the room.
- Bend your knee and place the top of your foot on the wall.
- Keeping contact with the wall and foot gently move the foot away from the body.
- Tuck the pelvis under like you are trying to twerk. (Thanks Kat)
- Relax and hold from 30 sec – 2 minutes depending on your pain and stamina threshold.
Knee and block to wall
- Repeat the sequence above although this time you will place a yoga block on the floor and wall.
- The long edge of the block connects the the wall.
- Place your knee so that it is in front of the yoga block.
- Bring your shoulders back and see if you can touch the wall with them.
Reclining Hero’s Pose.
This pose can be quite intense on the lower back so proceed with caution.
- From a kneeling position, separate the legs so that they are a little more than hip distance apart.
- Take a seat so that your sitbones touch the floor and the legs are besides you.
- Using your hands peel the calves out.
- Lay back into the space between your legs.
- Push into your hips to avoid a hyperextension in the lower back.
- Chill out here for a minute.
- Starting in a lunge position.
- Reach the opposing arm to the back leg and grab the foot.
- Draw the foot towards the glutes.
- Hold for 1 minute.
Side lying quad stretch.
- Laying on your side bend the knee and bring the foot to the glutes.
- Reach around and grab the back foot.
- Push forward into the quads.
Why foam rolling does not help a tight Vastus Lateralis.
Foam rolling does not help a tight Vastus Lateralis because it simply flattens the muscle like a pancake. The muscle belly is round and tapers off when it is closer to the insertion points.
The muscle begins to flatten and 24 hours later it returns to it’s normal shape. For foam rolling to be effective you need to ensure that you stretch immediately afterwards.
Exercises work the Vastus Lateralis:
Exercises to strengthen the hamstrings:
Single leg glute bridge
Swiss ball hamstring curl
Now that you know how to release the outer quads and stretch out the Vastis Lateralis it’s time to incorporate the strengthening and stretching program to keep harmony in the body.
Try implement the stretches and strengthening exercises three times per week for twenty minutes per day.
What did you think of these stretches and exercises? Let me know in the comments below.
In happiness and health,
- Bridge Pose
- The Hypermobility Spectrum Score. What’s Yours?
- Chest Stand/Chin Stand
- Scorpion Pose
Time to release all that quad pain? Try some pressure point release ad stretch it out with my flexibility classes and online coaching.