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There are more than 600 named skeletal muscles in the human body! Each has a role as a prime mover, a synergist, or an antagonist as we flex and move. Every day we use our legs for nearly everything we do. The sartorius muscle is a major helper muscle of actions of the hip and knee. Let's talk more about what it does and how you can take better care of it.
The sartorius is the longest muscle in the human body. Latin for "tailor," it is sometimes called the tailor muscle. It is a long, thin muscle that tracks obliquely across the thigh. Its origin is at the anterior superior iliac spine of the hip and inserts at the medial side of the proximal tibia near the knee joint. It crosses from lateral to medial (from the outer thigh to the inner thigh) across the rectus femoris and vastus medialis of the quadriceps. It is innervated by the femoral nerve from the vertebrae at L2-L4.
The sartorius muscle has several important functions at the hip joint and knee joint. Its long, thin structure makes it a relatively weakly acting muscle and it is classified as a synergist—a muscle that works in conjunction with the larger muscles of the quadriceps group. This muscle:
Works to flex the hip
Aids in hip abduction (away from the midline)
Laterally rotates the thigh
Helps with knee flexion
Laterally rotates the leg when the knee is flexed
The sartorius muscles works in conjunction with the tensor fasciae latae during hip rotation and abduction. The muscle also works as a synergist in hip abduction with the gluteus medius and maximus, psoas, piriformis, and quadratus lumborum of the lower back.
During lateral rotation of the hip, the sartorius is a synergist to the gluteus maximus, obturator internus and externus, gemelli, quadratus femoris and the piriformis.
During knee flexion (bending), it assists the hamstring complex (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris).
Personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts can strengthen the sartorius with exercises such as:
Resisted hip and knee flexion exercises
Movements that engage the muscles of the anterior and posterior thigh will recruit the sartorius. Its activity as a synergist in many daily lower body activities including walking, running, and squatting make it an important muscle to strengthen and keep healthy.
The frequent use of the sartorius also makes it prone to overuse or injury. Irritation of the bursa that lie deep to the sartorius is common in runners, as is chronic knee pain or weakness. The pes anserine bursa sits under the tendinous insertion point of the sartorius, gracilis (an adductor of the thigh), and semitendinosus at the inferior medial knee joint. When these three muscles are tight (overactive), they place excessive pressure on this bursa that has a physiological function of reducing friction from muscle and tendon moving over bone. Irritation of this bursa, or pes anserine bursitis, is a chronic knee pain cause. It can also cause an asymmetrical gait.
For individuals who sit for long periods, tight hips and tight hip flexor muscles including the sartorius are common. As a result, hip pain or an uneven gait may occur. However, the anterior hip pain caused by a tight sartorius is often mistaken for issues with the psoas and iliacus. While they may contribute to the discomfort, the sartorius should not be ignored! Learning to identify and correct tight hip flexors is key to finding relief!
Athletes in sports that require sharp turns with a planted foot and quick direction changes may also experience a stinging sensation at the hips. This may be caused by an acute injury or strain to the sartorius muscle.
Once pain at the medial knee or hip has been identified, how can you work to alleviate it?
The benefits of yoga are many. Relaxation, stress relief, flexibility, and circulatory health are only a few! Yoga asana (or poses) have the ability to relax the mind and body. The flow of yoga and several asanas are excellent ways to target the sartorius muscle specifically.
No matter what your fitness regimen, yoga will benefit you! People who resistance train exclusively can see great benefit from incorporating yoga into a warm-up and cool down. Let's explore how it can help with the sartorius.
We know that the sartorius acts to flex and laterally rotate the hip as well as flex the knee. Many postures that require a cross-legged position activate the sartorius. Like the lotus pose (Padmasana), butterfly pose (Baddha Konasana), and cow face pose (Gomukhasana).
However, to relax and stretch an overactive sartorius, try these poses:
Reclining Hero Pose (Supta Virasana)
Half Reclining Hero Pose (Ardha Supta Virasana)
Warrior I (with a straight back leg)
Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
Camel Pose (Ustrasana)
Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana)
Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
One-Legged King Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
Many of these poses stretch the whole lower limb, including the hip flexors and the muscles surrounding the knee. General static and dynamic stretches can also assist with an overactive sartorius and the discomfort associated with it. However, yoga generally moves at a slower pace and the asanas force the practitioner to sink deeper into the postures. The result is a better, more effective stretch!
If you're new to yoga, meet with an instructor or a personal trainer familiar with the practice and postures. They are easy to incorporate into any fitness routine! If you are a personal trainer ready to incorporate yoga into your repertoire, check out ISSA's Yoga 200 instructor course. It is a Yoga Alliance approved course designed to help you learn and incorporate yoga into fitness for yourself and your clients.