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Posterior Thigh Muscles

Contents

Introduction

The upper part of the leg, or region between the hip joint and knee joint, is referred to as the thigh. The thigh is divided into three muscular compartments:

  • The anterior compartment
  • The medial compartment
  • The posterior compartment

The posterior compartment is separated from the anterior compartment by a lateral intermuscular septum. However, there is no septum separating the posterior compartment from the medial compartment. The posterior compartment comprises three muscles collectively known as the hamstrings. These include the:

  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus
  • Biceps femoris

This article will talk about the action of these muscles and their anatomical locations as well as their vascular supply and nerve innervation. Finally, it will go over the pathology of the hamstrings in a clinical setting.

Posterior thigh muscles
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Origins, insertions, innervation and functions of the posterior thigh muscles.

Anatomy

The muscles of the posterior compartment cross both the hip and knee joints and thus have actions at both of these joints. The action of the hamstrings is to extend the thigh at the hip joint and flex the leg at the knee joint. When the knee is in the flexed position, the biceps femoris can externally rotate the leg whereas the semimembranosus and semitendinosus can act as internal rotators at the knee joint.

Semimembranosus

The semimembranosus is located medially in the posterior compartment, varies in size and is a flat, membranous shape. It originates from the lateral impression of the ischial tuberosity, by a long, flat tendon. The tendon descends deep to the long head of biceps femoris and to the semitendinosus muscle and forms an aponeurosis. At about midthigh, muscle fibres arise from this aponeurosis. The muscle then converges with another aponeurosis and then forms a rounded tendon. This tendon descends to attach to the horizontal concavity on the posterior aspect of the medial tibial condyle.

Vascular supply: Perforating arteries (predominantly the first), which branch from the profunda femoris artery. The muscle is also supplied by the inferior gluteal artery.

Semitendinosus

 

The semitendinosus is also situated posteriomedially in the thigh but runs superficially to the semimembranosus. It arises from the medial impression of the ischial tuberosity by a shared tendon with the long head of the biceps femoris. A muscular belly arises from this tendon, which is fusiform in shape. A rounded tendon then arises just below midthigh. The great length of this tendon gives the muscle its name. It then crosses the medial collateral ligament before attaching to the upper part of the tibia medially, behind the tendon attachment of the gracilis.

Vascular supply: First perforating artery of the profunda femoris artery and the inferior gluteal artery.

Biceps Femoris

The biceps femoris is once again situated posteriomedially, however, it consists of two heads or proximal attachments. The long head of the biceps femoris arises from the medial impression of the ischial tuberosity through a shared tendon with the semitendinosus. The short head arises from the femur at the linea aspera and the lateral supracondylar ridge. The long head crosses the sciatic nerve before forming an aponeurosis. The short head joins with this aponeurosis on its deep surface. A tendon is formed from this aponeurosis distally and inserts into the head of the fibula.

Vascular supply: Long head – first and second perforating arteries of the profunda femoris; Short head – second or third perforating arteries of the profunda femoris. Both heads are also supplied by the inferior gluteal artery as well as muscular branches of the popliteal artery.

The nerve innervation of the hamstrings is by the tibial division of the sciatic nerve (L5-S2) except for the short head of the biceps femoris, which is supplied by the common fibular division of the sciatic nerve (L5-S2).

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Show references

References:

  • C.S. Sinnatamby, R.J. Last: Last’s Anatomy, 12th Edition, Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone (2006), p.135-6. 
  • S. Standring: Gray’s Anatomy The Anatomical Basis Of Clinical Practice, 40th Edition, Elsevier Health Sciences UK (2008), p. 1377-8. 
  • K.L. Moore, A.F. Dalley, A.M.R. Agur: Clinically Oriented Anatomy, 7th Edition, Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins Health (2014), p. 581. 
  • G.J. Tortora, M.T. Nielsen: Principles Of Human Anatomy, 12th Edition, John Wiley (2012), p.421.

Author, Review and Layout:

  • Charlotte O'leary
  • Latitia Kench
  • Catarina Chaves

Illustrators:

  • Semimembranosus muscle (green) - posterior view - Liene Znotina
  • Semitendinosus muscle (green) - posterior view - Liene Znotina
  • Biceps femoris muscle (green) - posterior view - Liene Znotina
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

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