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Hip and thigh muscles

Hip and thigh musclesThe hip muscles encompass many muscles of the hip and thigh whose main function is to act on the thigh at the hip joint and stabilize the pelvis. Without them, walking would be impossible. They can be divided into three main groups:

  • Iliopsoas group
  • Gluteal muscles
  • Hip adductors

This article will introduce the muscles in each group and touch on their origin, insertion, function, and innervation.

Key facts about hip muscles
Iliopsoas group Muscles: iliacus, psoas major, and psoas minor
Main function: flexion of the trunk and thigh, lateral flexion of the trunk (excluding psoas major and minor only)
Innervation: anterior rami of spinal nerves L1-L3 and femoral nerve (L2-L4) (iliacus only)
Gluteal muscles (superficial) Muscles: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae
Main function: varied – extension, external and internal rotation, abduction and adduction of the thigh
Innervation: superior (L4, S1) and inferior (L5-S2) gluteal nerves
Gluteal muscles
(deep)
Muscles: piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator internus, gemellus inferior, obturator externus, and quadratus femoris
Main function: external rotation and abduction of the thigh; stabilizes head of femur
Innervation: varied – nerve to piriformis (S1-S2), nerve to obturator internus (L5-S2), nerve to quadratus femoris (L4-S1), obturator nerve (L3-L4)
Hip adductors Muscles: Gracilis, pectineus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, and adductor minimus
Main function: Adduction of the thigh at the hip joint
Innervation: Obturator nerve (L2-L3) and femoral nerve (L2-L3) (pectineus only)
Clinical points Femoral triangle

Hip and thigh muscles diagram

As you can see, there are many hip muscles. Start by learning to identify the muscles of the hip and thigh with this video and quiz.

Iliopsoas group

The iliopsoas group of muscles coins its name from the muscles that make it up: iliacus, psoas major, and psoas minor. They lie in the iliopsoas compartment in the posterior abdomen together with the lumbar plexus. The iliopsoas muscles originate from the posterior abdominal wall and insert at the lesser trochanter of the femur.

All iliopsoas group muscles cross the hip joint and share the same functions:

  • Flexion of the trunk and thigh
  • External rotation of the thigh

In addition, the psoas major and psoas minor laterally flex the trunk.

Iliacus

Iliacus is a large triangular shaped muscle that lies over the surface of the ilium, lateral to the lower part of the psoas major and psoas minor muscles. Its fibers merge with fibers of the psoas major muscle around the level of the inguinal ligament to become the iliopsoas muscle – the main flexor of the thigh. Iliacus receives its innervation from the femoral nerve (L2-L4) and functions to flex the trunk and hip and externally rotate the thigh.

Key facts about the iliacus muscle
Origin Iliac fossa
Insertion Lesser trochanter of femur
Innervation Femoral nerve (L2-L4)
Function Hip joint: Thigh/trunk flexion, Thigh external rotation

Psoas major

Psoas major is a long, thick, and fusiform muscle that lies lateral to the lumbar vertebrae and medial to quadratus lumborum. At its upper end, it is covered by the medial arcuate ligament as it passes through the diaphragm.

It originates from the T12-L4 vertebrae and descends to insert onto the lesser trochanter of the femur after fusing with the iliacus muscle. Part of the lumbar plexus is embedded into the muscle, with the anterior rami of spinal nerves L1-L3 innervating it. Psoas major flexes and laterally flexes the trunk. It also flexes and laterally rotates the thigh at the hip joint.

Key facts about the psoas major muscle
Origin Vertebral bodies of T12-L4, Intervertebral discs between T12-L4, Costal processes of L1-L5 vertebrae
Insertion Lesser trochanter of femur
Innervation Anterior rami of spinal nerves L1-L3
Function Hip joint: Thigh/trunk flexion, Thigh external rotation; Trunk lateral flexion

Psoas minor

Psoas minor is a long, thin, and fusiform muscle that lies anterior to psoas major. It is variably present, seen only in about 40% of people. Like psoas major, it is innervated by the anterior rami of spinal nerves L1-L3 and has the same function.

Key facts about the psoas minor muscle
Origin Vertebral bodies of T12 & L1 vertebrae
Insertion Iliopubic eminence, Pectineal line of pubis
Innervation Anterior rami of spinal nerves L1-L3
Function Hip joint: Thigh/trunk flexion, Thigh external rotation; Trunk lateral flexion

There is much more to learn about the iliopsoas muscles. Check out these articles and videos to learn more.

Gluteal muscles

The gluteal muscles can be divided into two main groups:

  • Large and superficial muscles which mainly abduct and extend the thigh at the hip joint. These are the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae.
  • Small and deep muscles which mainly externally rotate the thigh at the hip joint and stabilize the pelvis. These are the piriformis, obturator internus, obturator externus gemellus superior, gemellus inferior, and quadratus femoris. They are also known as the inner hip muscles and deep external rotators.
Recommended video: Gluteal muscles
Origins, insertions, innervation and functions of the gluteal muscles.

Superficial layer

The gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and tensor fasciae latae muscles are the large and superficial gluteal muscles. They have a variety of functions on the hip joint including extension, external and internal rotation, and abduction and adduction of the thigh at the hip joint.

The tensor fasciae latae is the only muscle of the group to also cross the knee joint, so it acts on the leg as well. The superior gluteal nerve (L4, S1) innervates all of these muscles except for the gluteus maximus which is innervated by the inferior gluteal nerve (L5-S2). 

Gluteus maximus

Gluteus maximus is a quadrangular shaped muscle and is the largest and most superficial muscle of the gluteal group. It covers all other gluteal muscles except for the superior part of the gluteus medius.

Its origin is broad, spanning across the ilium, sacrum, coccyx, thoracolumbar fascia, and sacrotuberous ligament. Muscle fibers extend inferolaterally to insert onto the iliotibial tract and gluteal tuberosity of the femur. It is innervated by the inferior gluteal nerve (L5-S2). Gluteus maximus extends, externally rotates, abducts (via its superior part), and adducts (via its inferior part) the thigh at the hip joint. 

Key facts about the gluteus maximus muscle
Origin Lateroposterior surface of sacrum and coccyx, Gluteal surface of ilium (behind posterior gluteal line), Thoracolumbar fascia, Sacrotuberous ligament
Insertion Iliotibial tract, Gluteal tuberosity of femur
Innervation Inferior gluteal nerve (L5-S2)
Function Hip joint: Thigh extension, Thigh external rotation, Thigh abduction (superior part), Thigh adduction (inferior part)

Gluteus medius

Gluteus medius is a fan-shaped muscle which lies deep to the gluteus maximus.

It originates between the anterior and posterior gluteal lines and converges towards the femur with the gluteus minimus muscle to insert on the greater trochanter. Like the gluteus minimus, gluteus medius is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve (L4, S1).

Gluteus medius abducts and internally rotates (via its anterior part) the thigh at the hip joint and stabilizes the pelvis.

Key facts about the gluteus medius muscle
Origin Gluteal surface of ilium (between anterior and posterior gluteal lines)
Insertion Lateral aspect of greater trochanter of femur
Innervation Superior gluteal nerve (L4, S1)
Function Hip joint: Hip abduction, Thigh internal rotation (anterior part); Pelvis stabilization

Gluteus minimus

Gluteus minimus is also a fan-shaped muscle lying deep to the gluteus medius. It originates between the anterior and inferior gluteal lines and converges inferolaterally with gluteus medius to insert near it on the greater trochanter. Like gluteus medius, gluteus minimus is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve (L4, S1) and has the same function.

Key facts about the gluteus minimus muscle
Origin Gluteal surface of ilium (between anterior and inferior gluteal lines)
Insertion Anterior aspect of greater trochanter of femur
Innervation Superior gluteal nerve (L4, S1)
Function Hip joint: Hip abduction, Thigh internal rotation (anterior part); Pelvis stabilization

Tensor fasciae latae

Tensor fasciae latae is a fusiform shaped muscle and the most anterior of the gluteal muscle group. It originates from the anterior superior iliac spine and the outer lip of the iliac crest. It then descends over part of the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus and the lateral aspect of the thigh to insert onto the iliotibial tract. It is innervated by the superior gluteal nerve like gluteus medius and minimus.

Tensor fasciae latae internally rotates and weakly abducts the thigh at the hip joint, externally rotates, and weakly flexes and extends the leg at the knee joint. It also stabilizes both the hip and knee joints.

Key facts about the tensor fasciae latae muscle
Origin Anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS), Outer lip of iliac crest
Insertion Iliotibial tract
Innervation Superior gluteal nerve (L4, S1)
Function Hip joint: Thigh internal rotation, (Weak abduction); Knee joint: Leg external rotation, (Weak leg flexion/extension); Stabilizes hip & knee joints

Dive into the anatomy of the superficial gluteal muscles with these articles and videos.

Deep layer

Looking at the hip from a posterior aspect, the inner hip muscles can be seen running from the medial features of the pelvis laterally to insert onto the head of the femur. They are partially covered by the inferior part of the gluteus maximus muscle. From superior to inferior, their order can be remembered with the mnemonic PGOGOQ: piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator internus, gemellus inferior, obturator externus, and quadratus femoris. In this view, obturator externus is mostly covered, but can still be seen slightly between gemellus inferior and quadratus femoris. There is no common innervation to this group, however most nerves are named after the muscles they innervate.

Practically all muscles in this group have the same function:

  • External rotation of the thigh at the hip joint
  • Abduction of the thigh from a flexed hip (excluding quadratus femoris)
  • Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

Piriformis

Piriformis is a pear-shaped muscle named after its shape from the Latin “pirum” for “pear” and “forma” meaning “shape”. It is the most superior gluteal muscle of the deep layer. Originating from the anterior surface of the sacrum, it passes posteriorly and inferiorly through the greater sciatic foramen to insert onto the greater trochanter. As it runs through the greater sciatic foramen, spaces remain above and below the piriformis – the suprapiriform and infrapiriform foramina.

Superior gluteal vessels and nerves pass above the piriformis through the suprapiriform foramen, while inferior gluteal vessels and nerves pass below the piriformis through the infrapiriform foramen. The piriformis is innervated by the nerve to piriformis (S1-S2).

Key facts about the piriformis muscle
Origin Anterior surface of the sacrum (between the S2 and S4), Gluteal surface of ilium (near posterior inferior iliac spine), (Sacrotuberous
ligament)
Insertion Apex of greater trochanter of femur
Innervation Nerve to piriformis (S1-S2)
Function Hip joint: Thigh external rotation, Thigh abduction (from flexed hip); Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

Gemellus superior

Gemellus superior, together with obturator internus and gemellus inferior, form a three-headed muscle known as the triceps coxae. These muscles are not capable of action individually and converge into a common tendon. Gemellus superior is a small, narrow, and triangular shaped muscle. It lies inferior to the piriformis and superior to the obturator internus.

Gemellus superior originates from the ischial spine and attaches to the greater trochanter via a common tendon with the obturator internus and gemellus inferior. It is innervated by the nerve to obturator internus like the obturator internus muscle.

Key facts about the gemellus superior muscle
Origin Ischial spine
Insertion Medial surface of greater trochanter of femur, (via tendon of obturator internus)
Innervation Nerve to obturator internus (L5-S2)
Function Hip joint: Thigh external rotation, Thigh abduction (from flexed hip); Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

Obturator internus

Obturator internus is a flat and fan-shaped muscle. It lies between the two gemelli muscles, inferior to gemellus superior and superior to gemellus inferior.

Obturator internus originates from the internal (posterior) obturator membrane and the bony border of the obturator foramen. From there, the muscle curves up and around the ischium at almost 90º before passing through the lesser sciatic foramen and inserting onto the greater trochanter via a common tendon with the gemelli muscles.

It is innervated by the nerve to obturator internus (L5-S1) like gemellus superior. 

Key facts about the obturator internus muscle
Origin Ischiopubic ramus, Posterior surface of obturator membrane
Insertion Medial surface of greater trochanter of femur
Innervation Nerve to obturator internus (L5-S2)
Function Hip joint: Thigh external rotation, Thigh abduction (from flexed hip); Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

Gemellus inferior

Gemellus inferior is a small, narrow, and triangular shaped muscle. It lies inferior to obturator internus and superior to the quadratus muscle. Inferior to the muscle, a sliver of the obturator externus lying anterior to triceps coxae can be seen.

Gemellus inferior originates from the ischial tuberosity and attaches to the greater trochanter via a common tendon with the gemellus superior and obturator internus. It is innervated by the nerve to quadratus femoris like quadratus femoris.

Key facts about the gemellus inferior muscle
Origin Ischial tuberosity
Insertion Medial surface of greater trochanter of femur, (via tendon of obturator internus)
Innervation Nerve to quadratus femoris (L4-S1)
Function Hip joint: Thigh external rotation, Thigh abduction (from flexed hip); Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

Obturator externus

Obturator externus is triangular and flat. It originates from the external (anterior) obturator membrane and the bony border of the obturator foramen. Its muscle fibers expand posterolaterally below the acetabulum and neck of the femur to insert onto the trochanteric fossa.

Obturator externus externally rotates and helps adduct the thigh at the hip joint. It also stabilizes the head of the femur. Since one of its actions is adduction of the thigh, it is sometimes considered a part of the hip adductors.

Key facts about the obturator externus muscle
Origin Anterior surface of obturator membrane, Bony boundaries of obturator foramen
Insertion Trochanteric fossa of femur
Innervation Obturator nerve (L3-L4)
Function Hip joint: Thigh external rotation, Thigh abduction (from flexed hip), Thigh adduction (secondary function); Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

Quadratus femoris

Quadratus femoris is a flat and rectangular shaped muscle that is the most inferior gluteal muscle of the deep layer, lying inferior to the gemellus inferior. It originates from the ischial tuberosity and inserts inferolaterally to the intertrochanteric crest of the femur.

Of all the external rotators of the thigh, this is the only muscle which does not abduct the thigh thigh from a flexed hip.

Quadratus femoris is innervated by the nerve to quadratus femoris (L5-S1) like the gemellus inferior.

Key facts about the quadratus femoris muscle
Origin Ischial tuberosity
Insertion Intertrochanteric crest of femur
Innervation Nerve to quadratus femoris (L5-S1)
Function Hip joint: Thigh external rotation; Stabilizes head of femur in acetabulum

There is a lot to know about the deep muscles of the gluteal region, and it can be challenging. Use these articles and videos to learn even more about each individual muscle.

Hip adductors

The six hip adductor muscles are all located in the adductor or medial compartment of the thigh and all mainly adduct the thigh at the hip joint. These are gracilis, pectineus, adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, and adductor minimus muscles. Sometimes obturator externus muscle is also considered as part of the hip adductors since one of its actions is to adduct the thigh at the hip joint. The hip adductors originate from the pubis and cross over the hip joint to insert onto the femur. The gracilis muscle crosses the knee joint as well and instead inserts onto the tibia.

As the hip adductors share a compartment, they also share blood supply and innervation. All have their arterial blood supply from the obturator artery, a branch of the internal iliac artery. They get their venous drainage by the obturator vein, which drains into the internal iliac vein. Most hip adductors are innervated by the obturator nerve (L2-L3) except for the pectineus (femoral nerve (L2-L3)). The adductor magnus receives additional innervation from the sciatic nerve (L4).

Gracilis

Gracilis is the most superficial and medial muscle of the group. It is a long, strap-like muscle which descends from the ischiopubic ramus of the pelvis to the medial surface of the tibial shaft. At its insertion, the tendon of the sartorius muscle lies anterior and the tendon of semitendinosus lies posterior. This combined point of insertion is called the pes anserinus.

Since the gracilis crosses over both the hip and knee joint, it acts on both joints. At the hip, gracilis flexes and adducts the thigh. At the knee, it flexes the leg and internally rotates it. 

Key facts about the gracilis muscle
Origin Anterior body of pubis, Inferior pubic ramus, Ischial ramus
Insertion Medial surface of proximal tibia (via pes anserinus)
Innervation Obturator nerve (L2-L3)
Function Hip joint: Thigh flexion, Thigh adduction; Knee joint: Leg flexion, Leg internal rotation

Pectineus

Pectineus is the most superior hip adductor and is flat and quadrangular in shape. From the pectineal line of the pubis, it extends laterally underneath the inguinal ligament to insert onto the pectineal line and linea aspera of the femur. Together with the adductor longus, it forms the floor of the femoral triangle. In addition, its medial margin forms the lateral border of the femoral triangle.

Pectineus flexes, adducts, and rotates the thigh at the hip joint as well as stabilizes the pelvis. Unlike the other muscles in the medial compartment of the thigh, it is innervated by the femoral nerve (L2-L3) instead of the obturator nerve (L2-L3). However, because of natural anatomical variation, it is possible for pectineus to be innervated by the obturator nerve as well.

Key facts about the pectineus muscle
Origin Superior pubic ramus (Pectineal line of pubis)
Insertion Pectineal line of femur, Linea aspera of femur
Innervation Femoral nerve (L2-L3) (and sometimes Obturator nerve (L2-L3))
Function Hip joint: Thigh flexion, Thigh adduction, Thigh external rotation, Thigh internal rotation; Pelvis stabilization

Adductor longus

Adductor longus is also a flat muscle and fans out when it descends towards the knee joint. It is the most anterior adductor muscle and covers parts of the adductor brevis and magnus which lie posterior.

Adductor longus originates at the anterior body of the pubis and inserts on the medial lip of the linea aspera. Together with the pectineus, it forms the floor of the femoral triangle. Its lateral margin forms the medial border of the femoral triangle. It also contributes to the posterior wall of the adductor canal together with the adductor magnus. Adductor longus flexes, adducts, and externally rotates the thigh at the hip joint and stabilizes the pelvis.

Key facts about the adductor longus muscle
Origin Anterior body of pubis
Insertion Linea aspera of femur (medial lip)
Innervation Obturator nerve (L2-L3)
Function Hip joint: Thigh flexion, Thigh adduction, Thigh external rotation; Pelvis stabilization

Adductor brevis

Adductor brevis is a triangular shaped muscle that lies posterior to pectineus and adductor longus and anterior to adductor magnus. It originates on the pubis superior to gracilis, and inserts onto the linea aspera of the femur lateral to pectineus and adductor longus.

Near the superior aspect of adductor brevis is the obturator canal through which the obturator artery, vein, and nerve pass from the pelvis to the thigh. After passing through the obturator canal the obturator nerve splits into an anterior and posterior division which travel anterior and posterior to adductor brevis. Adductor brevis adducts, flexes, and externally rotates the thigh at the hip joint and stabilizes the pelvis.

Key facts about the adductor brevis muscle
Origin Anterior body of pubis, Inferior pubic ramus
Insertion Linea aspera of femur (medial lip)
Innervation Obturator nerve (L2-L3)
Function Hip joint: Thigh flexion, Thigh adduction, Thigh external rotation; Pelvis stabilization

Adductor magnus

Adductor magnus is the largest and most posterior muscle of the medial compartment of the thigh. Like adductor longus and adductor brevis, it is a triangular shaped muscle. From its insertion at the pelvis, it fans out to insert along the femur. There are two parts to the adductor magnus muscle:

  • Adductor part – the lateral part which originates from the ischiopubic ramus and inserts from the gluteal tuberosity and along the linea aspera to the medial supracondylar line.
  • Ischiocondylar part – the medial part which originates from the ischial tuberosity and inserts onto the adductor tubercle. It is also known as the “hamstring part”.

Between the points of insertion is a large opening for the femoral artery and vein to pass from the adductor canal to the popliteal fossa called the adductor hiatus. It also contributes to the posterior wall of the adductor canal together with the adductor longus.

The two parts of the adductor magnus are innervated by different nerves. The adductor part is innervated by the obturator nerve (L2-L4) like other hip adductors while the ischiocondylar part is innervated by the tibial nerve after it branches off the sciatic nerve (L4). Like other hip adductors, the adductor magnus flexes and adducts the thigh at the hip joint, and also stabilizes the pelvis. In addition, the adductor part externally rotates the thigh and the ischiocondylar part internally rotates and extends the thigh at the hip joint.

Key facts about the adductor magnus muscle
Origin Adductor part: Inferior pubic ramus, Ischial ramus 
Ischiocondylar part: Ischial tuberosity
Insertion Adductor part: Gluteal tuberosity, Linea aspera (medial lip), Medial supracondylar line
Ischiocondylar part: Adductor tubercle of femur
Innervation Adductor part: Obturator nerve (L2-L4)
Ischiocondylar part: Tibial division of sciatic nerve (L4)
Function Hip joint: Thigh flexion, Thigh adduction, Thigh external rotation (adductor part), Thigh extension, Thigh internal rotation (ischiocondylar part); Pelvis stabilization

Adductor minimus

Adductor minimus is a small muscle that lies between the quadratus femoris and adductor magnus. It is present in 50% of adults and can be fused with the superior border of adductor magnus. It originates from the inferior pubic ramus and inserts onto the gluteal tuberosity to adduct and externally rotate the thigh at the hip joint.

Key facts about the adductor minimus muscle
Origin Inferior public ramus
Insertion Gluteal tuberosity of femur
Innervation Obturator nerve (L2-L3)
Function Hip joint: Thigh adduction, Thigh external rotation

Learn even more about the hip adductors and the adductor canal with these muscle videos.

Video tutorials

Iliopsoas group

Gluteal muscles

Hip adductors

Quizzes

Clinical points

The femoral triangle is an important anatomical landmark. It lies underneath the fascia of the superomedial thigh inferior to the inguinal ligament and can be seen externally as a depression in the thigh. It contains the femoral nerve, femoral artery, femoral vein, and deep inguinal lymph nodes. The femoral triangle is bounded superiorly by the inguinal ligament, medially by the lateral border of the adductor longus, and laterally by the medial border of the sartorius. Its floor is formed by the iliopsoas (laterally) and the pectineus (medially) while its roof is formed by fascia lata, subcutaneous fat, and skin. Since no muscles form its roof, it can be used as a point of central venous access.

Hip and thigh muscles: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,177,151 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Drake, R. L., Vogl, A. W. & Mitchell, A. W. M. (2015). Gray’s Anatomy for Students (3rd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone.
  • Moore, K. L., Dalley, A. F. & Agur, A. M. R. (2014). Clinically Oriented Anatomy (7th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Tortora, G. J., & Nielsen, M. T. (2014). Principles of Human Anatomy (13th ed.). Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  • Tubbs RS, Griessenauer CJ, Marshall T, Dennison CP, Shoja MM, Loukas M, Apaydin N, Cohen-Gadol AA. The adductor minimus muscle revisited. (2011) Surgical and radiologic anatomy : SRA. 33 (5): 429-32. doi:10.1007/s00276-010-0741-2

Article, review and layout:

  • Alexandra Osika
  • Francesca Salvador
  • Jana Vasković

Illustrations:

  • Hip and thigh muscles - Liene Znotina
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