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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Gracilis Muscle Pain: Causes, Stretches, Strength Exercises

Gracilis Muscle Pain: Causes, Stretches, Strength Exercises

Reading Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2023-09-13

A 2022 study reports that more than one in five people (20.5%) deal with some type of pain most days of the week, if not every day. This makes it highly likely that, as a personal trainer, you will encounter clients with pain issues.

One area where pain may be experienced is the gracilis muscle. Learn more about what this muscle is and does. We also share some of the most common causes of pain in the gracilis muscle, along with a few treatment options and gracilis muscle exercises.

The Gracilis Muscle: Where It Is and How It Aids in Movement

The gracilis muscle runs along the inner thigh. It starts near the bottom of the pubic bone, in the groin area, and ends just under the knee, where it attaches to the tibia. Here it joins the sartorius muscle and semitendinosus muscle, where the three muscles are known collectively as the pes anserinus.

The gracilis is a superficial muscle, sitting close to the skin. If you touch your inner thigh, it is the gracilis that you feel. 

You use the gracilis muscle in several lower body movements. It is a hip adductor. This means that it pulls the leg in, toward the midline of the body. As an adductor muscle, it helps stabilize the pelvis. The gracilis also plays a role in knee flexion and internal knee rotation. 

The gracilis helps you walk and run. It also supports lateral movements in sports such as football, basketball, and hockey. 

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Causes of Pain in the Gracilis Muscle

Some causes of gracilis muscle pain include:

  • Groin strain. In this condition, the groin muscle is stretched or torn. Changing direction quickly can cause a strain injury. You can also strain this muscle when performing a kicking motion. Either way, having this type of muscle strain leads to pain in the groin. 

  • Sports hernia. Participating in a sport that has sudden changes of direction can lead to a sports hernia. This condition refers to a strain or tears to muscle fibers, tendons, or ligaments in the groin area.

  • Pinched nerve. If you have a nerve pinched in your lower back, it can send pain down the inside of your leg. It’s also possible to have a pinched nerve within your groin. 

  • Pes anserine bursitis. If your pes anserine bursa is inflamed due to overuse or stress, it can lead to bursitis. This bursal sac is located between the gracilis and the sartorius and semitendinosus.

  • Muscle spasms. Another cause of pain in the gracilis is muscle spasms. These spasms may be from overuse of the gracilis muscle. They can also be from dehydration and muscle fatigue.

  • Neurological issues. Some neurological conditions can cause the gracilis muscle to spasm, potentially leading to pain. The neurological condition multiple sclerosis (MS) also typically involves muscle stiffness. And this stiffness often occurs in the groin according to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America.

  • Osteitis pubis. Also known as gracilis syndrome, osteitis pubis is an inflammation of the pubic symphysis (joint between the right and left pelvic bone) and surrounding areas. This can lead to groin pain. While rare, research indicates that osteitis pubis can be caused by various urology surgeries and medical procedures.

Signs You May Have a Gracilis Injury

In addition to pain in the groin or thigh, a gracilis muscle injury can also appear in the form of knee pain. Although, knee pain can also be a result of gracilis dysfunction.

Depending on the type of groin injury, there might even be bruising and muscle weakness. Either symptom can occur with a groin strain, for instance.

Gracilis Pain Treatment Options

Pain caused by a groin strain or injury is often treated with rest, ice, and compression. Stopping activities that place pressure on the gracilis, at least temporarily, also give it time to heal. Also be sure to speak with your doctor.

If the pain is due to muscle spasms, it’s important to identify what is causing the muscle to tighten. Is it overuse, not hydrating enough, or something else? Once you understand what’s behind the spasms, you can take action to correct them.

Treatment for other conditions leading to pain in the gracilis can vary. For instance, pes anserinus bursitis and osteitis pubis can be treated with rest, ice, medications, and physical therapy. While there is no cure for MS, it is often managed with lifestyle and medications. 

Stretches Good for the Gracilis Muscle

Stretching the gracilis can help ease pain in the groin and thigh that is caused by tightness or stiffness. Here are a few to consider:

  • Butterfly stretch. To do this stretch, sit on the floor with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together. Gently lower both knees toward the floor. You should feel a stretch in the groin and inner portion of the thigh. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then release. 

  • Piriformis stretch. This is a good stretch for tight hip flexor muscles. It’s also good for pain in the groin due to a pinched nerve. Lie down with both legs bent. Place the ankle of the leg with the pinched nerve on the opposite knee. Slowly pull the knee toward you. Grab the ankle on that knee and pull it up toward your hip. Hold for 10 seconds, then release. Do this stretch on both the right and left leg.

Stop any of these stretches if you feel groin or thigh pain. You may have a gracilis muscle injury. Or you might have a medical condition that causes pain in this muscle or area. Seeking further medical attention can help identify the cause of the pain.

Exercises to Build Gracilis Muscle Strength

If your gracilis muscle can’t support a particular movement, it can lead to an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). An ACL injury is common in sports with a lot of lower body movement, including skiing, basketball, and soccer.

There are also a few exercises you can do to help make the gracilis stronger. This can help protect it—and the tendons around it—from injury.

  • Standing thigh adduction with a resistance band. Stand with one end of the band around the ankle and the other around a stationary object. Pull against the band, pulling the leg closer to the body’s midline, the release. Do 12-15 reps.

  • Lying leg adduction. You can also do thigh adduction movements while lying on your side. This exercise can be performed with a resistance band to make it harder.

  • Groin squeezes. Lie on your back with your knees bent and a pillow between them. Squeeze the pillow, hold for 5-8 seconds, and release.

Corrective exercise can help ease several types of muscle pain, including pain originating in the gracilis. Personal trainers can offer this service as a Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist. This course teaches you how to help people with both acute and chronic pain issues.

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Yong, R. Jason; Mullins, Peter M. Bhattacharyya, Neil. Prevalence of chronic pain among adults in the United States. PAIN: February 2022 - Volume 163 - Issue 2 - p e328-e332. https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000002291

Spasticity (stiffness). MSAA. (2022, May 31). Retrieved October 5, 2022, from https://mymsaa.org/ms-information/symptoms/spasticity/ 

Gomella, P., & Mufarrij, P. (2017). Osteitis pubis: A rare cause of suprapubic pain. Reviews in Urology, 19(3), 156–163. https://doi.org/10.3909/riu0767

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