What to Know About Thigh Muscles

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on August 12, 2022
4 min read

Your thigh is made up of a few different groups of muscles. The thigh is an important part of your body because your thighs bear most of your body’s weight! It’s consequently important to keep your thighs in good condition and to treat thigh muscle injuries.

Your thighs house a few of the biggest muscles in your body! These assist your body as it bends, rotates, flexes, balances, and keeps your legs and hips aligned. Based on location and function, your thigh muscles are grouped as follows:

Hamstrings. Three muscles make up your hamstrings: the biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. They’re located along the back of your thigh, starting at your hip and ending right below your knee

This group helps you tilt (or extend) your hip and place your leg behind the rest of your body, like when you put a leg behind you as part of the walking motion. Hamstrings also assist you in flexing (or bending) your knee.

Pectineus. Pectineus is a flat muscle that runs down the front of your pelvis and stops at the top of your femur. This group allows you to rotate and flex your thigh from your hip joint, and it stabilizes your pelvis.

Adductors. Five muscles make up your adductors: the obturator externus, gracilis, adductor longus, adductor brevis, and adductor magnus. These are located on the inside of your thigh, spanning from your femur (or thigh bone) up to your pelvis.

This group assists you in bringing your thighs in toward each other, a movement called adduction. Adductors also help with balance, align your legs and hips, and allow your legs and hips to rotate.

Sartorius. Sartorius is one long, thin muscle–in fact, it’s the longest muscle in your body! It begins up by your hip, wraps around the front of your thigh, and goes down to your knee.

This helps as you rotate and flex your thigh from your hip joint. For example, you use the sartorius when crossing your legs to place an ankle on the opposite leg, rotating and bending your leg in order to see the underside of your foot, and sitting on the floor with your legs crossed.

Quadriceps. Four big muscles make up your quadriceps: the vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and rectus femoris. Your quadriceps begin at your pelvis and femur and go all the way down to your kneecap and shin bone.

This group helps you to flex your hip when you sit or squat and to extend your knee when you’re standing or placing your leg directly in front of you as you take a step.

Your thigh muscles are what’s known as skeletal muscles. This means that they’re attached directly to your bones and tendons, and they assist in moving parts of your skeleton. Skeletal muscles are composed of muscle fibers that are bundled up with nerve fibers and blood vessels. Skeletal muscles are very elastic, allowing them to stretch a lot.

Keeping your thigh muscles strong and flexible is important to avoid injury. Consider the following thigh muscle exercises to maintain thigh muscle function:

  • Hip bridges
  • Standing hip extensions using a mini band
  • Single-leg Romanian deadlifts
  • Posterior-to-anterior lunges

In addition to knowing how to strengthen thigh muscles, you should do the following to protect your thigh muscles:

  • Be cautious when playing sports that require tackling or changing directions quickly.
  • Pay attention to how your body feels–if you feel pain, stop and take a break.
  • Eat a high-protein diet.
  • Exercise frequently to maintain strength and avoid injury.
  • Avoid putting on excessive amounts of weight to avoid straining muscles.
  • Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.
  • When exercising, warm up first, slowly build up intensity, and stretch when finished.
  • Make sure your shoes fit correctly.

One of the most common forms of thigh muscle injury is a muscle strain. This is especially common in the hamstring and quadricep groups due to the fact that they cross at the hip and knee joints and are used for high-speed, intense activities like soccer, football, basketball, and similar sports. A muscle strain occurs when you stretch the muscle further than it’s able to stretch and muscle fibers tear.

Symptoms. You might feel a pop or snap at the moment the thigh muscle tears. You’ll probably feel intense pain immediately, and the area may be tender or visibly bruise. It’s possible that your calf and ankle might bruise and swell, too, following your initial injury.

Examination. Your healthcare provider will want to know how you injured yourself and will take a look at the bruising, check for tenderness, see if you can straighten or bend your knee, and so on. They might need to take an x-ray of the leg to make sure there’s no fracture or other bone injury or an MRI to check on your thigh’s other muscles and tendons.

Treatment. Follow the RICE method to treat your muscle strain, unless your healthcare provider recommends otherwise. The RICE method consists of:

  • Resting from the kind of activities that caused your strain
  • Icing the area for 20-minute periods a few times a day
  • Compressing the area with an ace wrap or soft bandage to keep it from swelling
  • Elevating the leg above your heart to further reduce swelling

If you think you might’ve injured your thigh muscles, reach out to your healthcare provider. Even if you’ve barely damaged a muscle, that still increases the risk of injuring yourself seriously and should be addressed as soon as possible. Get in touch with your healthcare provider if any of the following apply to you:

  • You’re unable to extend or bend your knee or hip.
  • You’ve lost feeling or consistently feel weak in your knee or hip.
  • You have persistent pain that won’t disappear, and it gets worse when you extend or bend your knee or hip.
  • You hear snapping or popping in your leg.
  • You’ve sustained multiple injuries to your thigh.
  • You have swelling or bruising in your thigh.
  • You’re unable to fully support your weight on your leg.