Sartorius Muscle Actions, Exercises, and Injuries
The sartorius muscle isn’t as well known as, say, the gluteus maximus, but this ribbon-like muscle gets a lot of use.
The sartorius, the longest muscle of the body, wraps from the outside of the hip to the inside of the knee and is used during everything from walking and jogging to lateral slides and lunges.
Almost every time you use your lower body to ambulate, the sartorius gets involved.
Origin and Insertion
You have a sartorius muscle on either side of your body, each originating on the anterior superior iliac spine of your pelvis. You can find these landmarks by feeling for the bony protrusions on your hips at the front of your body. From its origin, the sartorius then crosses the front of your thigh, angling inward, ultimately inserting on the medial side of the tibia—the larger of the two bones in your lower leg.
Because the sartorius crosses two joints—the hip and the knee—the muscle plays a role in movement at both joints. The actions of the sartorius include:
- Hip flexion: Bending at the hip, as when you march in place with high knees
- Hip abduction: Moving your leg away from your midline, as when you take a step to the side
- External hip rotation: Rotating your leg outward so your thigh, knee, and toes turn toward the side of the room
- Knee flexion: Bending your knee to draw your heel toward your glutes
The tree pose in yoga is one example of an exercise that requires all of the sartorius’ actions. When you perform a tree pose, you have to bend your hip and knee to draw your foot upward.
You then have to abduct and rotate your hip to the outside of the room to place the bottom of your lifted foot on the inside of your stationary leg.
Cross-legged sitting, the butterfly stretch, and the fire log pose are other examples of exercises that require all of the sartorius muscle actions.
Because the sartorius is involved in so many lower-body actions, it’s fairly easy to strengthen the muscle with a standard, well-rounded lower-body routine. In fact, every time you do a squat or lunge, and every time you go for a walk or jog, the sartorius is being put to work.
However, two of the sartorius’ actions—hip abduction and external rotation—are often neglected. So consider adding a few of the following movements to your workout that require you to perform these actions:
Lateral step-ups performed on a bench or plyo box are an excellent compound exercise that targets all of the major muscle groups of the lower body. You can do these using nothing more than your body weight, or you can use resistance-training equipment like dumbbells or a loaded barbell to make the exercise more challenging.
Simply stand to one side of a sturdy box or bench. Flex the hip and knee on the leg closest to the bench and abduct your hip to step up onto the box. Follow with your opposite leg to rise to stand on the box. Reverse the movement and carefully step down from the box. Complete a set of 12 to 15 on one side, then switch sides and lead the step up with your opposite leg.
Lateral Band Walks
Band walks are a great way to strengthen all of the abductors of your hips. Place a small, looped resistance band around your legs, just above your ankles. Stand with your feet about hip-distance apart so the band is taut, but not tight. Bend your hips and knees slightly so you’re in a “ready position,” then take a step laterally to the right, pulling against the resistance of the band.
Step your left foot toward your right foot, but don’t let the band go slack. Continue stepping to the right, taking 10 to 12 steps, then reverse the movement, this time taking 10 to 12 steps to the left. If the exercise feels too hard, place the band above your knees, instead of above the ankles.
To set up for a plie squat, you first abduct your hips by creating a wide base of support, stepping your feet out laterally from your midline. Then you rotate your hips outward, so your thighs, knees, and feet point toward the sides of the room.
From here, bend (flex) your knees and hips, lowering your glutes straight down while keeping your hips externally rotated so your knees remain aligned with your toes. When your knees form a 90-degree angle, press through your heels, and return to standing. Perform 10 to 12 repetitions. You can do this exercise using bodyweight, or you can increase resistance with dumbbells or a barbell.
The clam exercise, or clamshell exercise, looks simple, but when it’s done correctly, it really fires up the outer hips, putting your external rotators to work.
Lie on your side, your bottom arm extended upward to support your head and neck. Flex your hips and knees, so your thighs are positioned at a 90-degree angle to your torso and your knees are also bent at roughly 90-degrees. From here, make sure your shoulders and hips and knees are stacked, your body perpendicular to the floor.
Keeping your big toes touching, tighten your core, and externally rotate your top hip so your knees open, as though you were a clam opening up. Rotate as far as you comfortably can with good form, then reverse the movement, internally rotating your hip back to its starting position. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions before repeating on the opposite side.
If having your hips bent to 90 degrees doesn’t feel good as you rotate, lower your hips to a 45-degree angle (any angle ranging from 45 to 90 degrees is workable).
To make the exercise more difficult, place a small looped resistance band around your legs, just above your knees. When you externally rotate your top hip, you’ll open your knees against the resistance of the band.
People commonly stretch the sartorius when they do typical lower-body flexibility exercises, such as the standing quad stretches, but it’s pretty common for people to forget to add hip flexor stretches to their routine. Because of the sartorius’ role in hip flexion, it’s critical to use this type of stretch to loosen up the front of the upper hip.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
Kneel on the ground with your left knee on the ground and your right foot planted in front of you, knee bent at a 90-degree angle, as if you were about to propose. Place your hands on your hips, and keeping your torso upright, squeeze your glutes and press your hips forward until you feel a stretch at the top of your left hip.
Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, release, then repeat three to five times before switching legs.
Foam Rolling Exercises
You may also want to loosen up the sartorius muscle with foam rolling exercises. Because the sartorius starts on the outside of your hip and wraps around the front of your thigh before attaching just below the knee on the inside of your lower leg, there are a number of ways you can hit this muscle with a foam roller.
- Roll on the hip crease: Lie prone on top of a foam roller so it’s positioned at a slight angle in the hip crease between your right thigh and your pelvis. Use your forearms, hands, and your other leg to prop yourself up to make this position comfortable and to control the amount of pressure you place on the roller. Avoid hitting any bony points and simply rock forward and backward in small, slow movements, gradually shifting your weight side to side to identify any tight spots in your hip flexors that could use a massage. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides.
- Roll at an angle across the thigh: Position the foam roller at the top of your right thigh, your body angled slightly upward so the pressure is on the outside of your upper right thigh. Using your forearms, hands, and your opposite leg to control the movement, slowly roll at an angle down the length of your thigh, so you end with the roller placing pressure on the inside of your thigh, just above your knee. Reverse the movement and roll back up your thigh at an angle, ending on the outside of your right hip. Continue rolling up and down your thigh for about 30 to 60 seconds before switching sides.
- Roll between the legs: Lie on your right side, propped up on your right forearm, your legs stacked on top of each other. Place a foam roller between your legs, just above your knee, allowing gravity to initiate the pressure on the inside of your legs. Move your top leg forward and backward slowly, internally, and externally rotating your hip to target the muscles from different angles. Keep the roller in a single spot for about 15 seconds, then move the roller up or down your thigh by about an inch to target the sartorius from a different position. The roller should always be relatively close to your knee, but never directly on the joint.
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Walters BB, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Thigh Sartorius Muscle. StatPearls [Internet]. Updated online, Nov 14, 2018.