The vastus lateralis is one of four muscles that make up the quadriceps. These muscles work together to extend the knee. The vastus lateralis is located above the knee joint, toward the outer edge of the leg. It lies beneath the iliotibial tract, which is a band of fascia that runs vertically along the outer thigh. The vastus lateralis is susceptible to muscle fiber tearing -- which is called a muscle strain -- through knee extension in sports and everyday activities.
Classification of Muscle Strains
The severity of the muscle strain is measured by the damage to the muscle and the amount of blood drawn to the injury site. Strains are typically classified as either first-degree, second-degree or third-degree. A first-degree strain is considered mild because only a few muscle fibers are torn, swelling is minimal and little discomfort is associated with this type of injury. A second-degree strain is considered moderate because a greater number of fibers are torn and leg function is somewhat compromised. A third-degree strain is the most severe. The entire muscle is torn, resulting in a complete loss of leg function.
Long-term treatment options vary depending on the severity of the injury. However, immediate treatment with a first-, second- or third-degree strain of the vastus lateralis remains the same. Immediately apply crushed ice to the outer thigh area, gently compress the ice with a tensor bandage and elevate the thigh above the heart to reduce swelling. Prior to any other treatment, consult a physician for optimal recovery.
The Healing Process
The healing of skeletal muscle tissue follows a process similar to that of the healing of cuts and bruises. The tissue goes through three major phases: destruction phase, repair phase and remodeling phase. Throughout these phases, the body slowly repairs the torn muscle fibers. The length of time for the healing process to occur depends on the severity of the injury, the immediate treatment performed and the individual's general health. Typically a vastus lateralis strain requires anywhere from three weeks to six months to heal.
Following immediate treatment and an assessment by a medical professional, exercise rehabilitation is an effective long-term treatment option. However, there are a few things to consider. A portion of the femoral nerve runs through the vastus lateralis, so a rehabilitation specialist works to prevent any nerve impingement during the healing process. In addition, an important component of a successful recovery is maintenance of general health. Despite the vastus lateralis injury, continue with upper body cardiovascular activity and proper nutrition.