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Quadriceps Femoris Muscle - want to learn more about it?

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Quadriceps Femoris Muscle

The quadriceps femoris muscle is a four-membered muscle of the thigh which almost completely covers the anterior femur. It ranks among the strongest muscles in the human body (physiological cross-sectional area > 150 cm2). It significantly forms the lateral contours and the ventral side of the thigh. Its innervation is carried by the femoral nerve (L2-4).

The name of the muscle is derived from latin from which it literally translates as the 'four-headed muscle'. The four parts of the muscle are: rectus femoris muscle, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius, and they altogether form a fleshy mass of the thigh.

Key Facts
Origin Rectus femoris: anterior iliac spine of the pelvis, upper margin of the acetabulum of the pelvis
Vastus medialis: intertrochanteric line of the femur
Vastus lateralis: linea aspera, greater trochanter of the femur
Vastus intermedius: anterior side of the femur
Insertion Tuberosity of the tibia (all four parts) - form patellar ligament
Innervation Femoral artery
Vascularization Femoral nerve
Function Knee extension, hip flexion (only rectus femoris)
Clinical relations Absent patellar reflex, paralysis of the muscle

This article will discuss anatomical aspects related to the quadriceps femoris muscle.

Anatomy

Rectus femoris muscle

The Rectus femoris muscle has two origins at the anterior inferior iliac spine of the pelvis and the upper margin of the acetabulum. Distally its fibers end in the common insertion tendon (quadriceps tendon).

Vastus medialis muscle

The Vastus medialis muscle runs spirally around the shaft from the linea aspera and intertrochanteric line of the femur and merges with the quadriceps tendon for the most part. A second part - referred to as medial patellar retinaculum - bypasses the patella medially and inserts at the medial condyle of the tibia.

Vastus lateralis muscle

The vastus lateralis muscle originates at the linea aspera and greater trochanter of the femur, loops around the shaft and mainly runs into the quadriceps tendon. Mirror-inverted to the vastus medialis muscle a small part goes around the patella laterally and inserts at the lateral condyle of the tibia (lateral patellar retinaculum).

Vastus intermedius muscle

The vastus intermedius muscle begins at the front side of the femur and ends in the common insertion tendon. In the height of the patellar base a small part splits off and inserts at the suprapatellar recess of the knee joint capsule (articularis genus muscle). Even though it does not count as an independent muscle it is sometimes considered as the “fifth head” of the quadriceps.

The quadriceps tendon runs above the ventral side and through the periosteum of the patella and finally inserts at the tuberosity of the tibia. The part below the patellar apex is referred to as the patellar ligament.

Function

The quadriceps is the only extensor of the knee joint. Therefore it plays a key role in every movement involving the stretching of the knee (e.g. walking, climbing stairs, rising from the sitting position). In addition it keeps the knee from buckling when standing. Furthermore the rectus femoris muscle forces a flexion of the hip joint. To a small extent the vastus medialis muscle is involved in the inward rotation and the vastus lateralis muscle in the outward rotation of the knee joint. The articularis genus muscle is directly linked to the knee joint capsule and the suprapatellar bursa. During the knee extension it pulls both structures proximally and by this means prevents their entrapment between patella and femur.

Recommended video: Functions of the rectus femoris muscle
Functions and anatomy of the rectus femoris muscle shown with 3D model animation.
Recommended video: Functions of the vastus intermedius muscle
Functions and anatomy of the vastus intermedius muscle shown with 3D model animation.
Recommended video: Functions of the vastus lateralis muscle
Functions and anatomy of the vastus lateralis muscle shown with 3D model animation.
Recommended video: Functions of the vastus medialis muscle
Functions and anatomy of the vastus medialis muscle shown with 3D model animation.

The quadriceps tendon utilizes the patella as a sesamoid bone. This has two advantages:

  • The lever arm is lengthened which effectively increases the torque (torsional moment). Thus the muscle needs less power in order to move the bone.
  • The patella protects the knee joint from damage through the quadriceps tendon.

Clinical Aspects

Clinically the quadriceps is the reference muscle for the nerve roots L3 and L4. An absent patellar reflex may reveal a spinal disc herniation at the height of L3 or L4. In contrast a paralysis of the quadriceps by a peripheral lesion is typically demonstrated by the inability to walk adequately and to climb the stairs. Interestingly the stand can be initially compensated by the help of the ligaments and capsule of the knee joint, and by leaning over the upper body.

From all muscles in the human body the rectus femoris muscle is mostly prone to shorten and is therefore particularly vulnerable to injury. Normally one should be able to touch his buttocks with his heel. In order to prevent a shortening of the quadriceps it is strongly recommended to do stretching exercises after each workout.

Quadriceps Femoris Muscle - 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 852,397 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:

  • M. Schünke/E. Schulte/U. Schumacher: Prometheus – LernAtlas der Anatomie – Allgemeine Anatomie und Bewegungssystem, 2.Auflage, Thieme Verlag (2007), S.476-477
  • W. Graumann/ D.Sasse: CompactLehrbuch der gesamten Anatomie – Band 2 – Bewegungsapparat, Schattauer Verlag (2003), S.165-169
  • R. Wirhed: Sportanatomie – Bewegungslehre, 3.Auflage, Schattauer Verlag (2001), S.171-175
  • M. Schünke: Topographie und Funktion des Bewegungssystems, Thieme Verlag (2000), S.344-345

Author:

  • Achudhan Karunaharamoorthy

Illustrators:

  • Quadriceps femoris muscle - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Rectus femoris muscle - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Vastus medialis muscle - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Vastus lateralis muscle - ventral view - Liene Znotina
  • Vastus intermedius muscle - ventral 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.

Related Atlas Images

Muscles of the hip and thigh

Main muscles of the lower extremity

Vagina level

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