Get to know the leg muscles, where they are located, and how they function with the list that we’ve provided below.
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Anatomy of the Legs and Feet: List of All Muscles in the Legs
Quadriceps are a group of anterior muscles that function as extensors of the knee. The anatomy of the quadriceps provides aid in daily leg activities such as walking, running and squatting. It facilitates the forward movement of the knees.
As the name suggests, there are four main leg muscles that this group contains. These are:
- Vastus lateralis – Also known as the vastus externus. It is the largest and most powerful leg muscle in the quadriceps group and is found on the side of the thigh. Its job is to extend the lower leg and assist the body in standing up especially from squatting.
- Vastus medialis – This is a teardrop-shaped muscle in the thigh that extends to the knee. It is the most medial among all those in the quads group which functions to extend the leg and stabilize the knee.
- Vastus intermedius – This is the deepest among all the muscles in this group. It is located on the lateral upper surface of the femur. It functions to cover the front and side part of the femur.
- Rectus femoris – This muscle attaches at the hip and reaches the kneecap. It is responsible for helping the extension and raising of the knee.
The hamstrings are posterior thigh muscles located in the middle of the hip and the knee and at the back of the upper leg. They help with the flexibility of the knee and extends the thigh to the rear side of the body. These muscles are essential in walking, running, and other leg activities.
Hamstrings are a group of muscles composed of three “strings.” These three muscles work together to allow the leg movements mentioned above. These hamstring muscles are:
- Biceps femoris – Two parts make up this muscle: the long head and the short head. The long head is connected to the ischium found at the lower back part of the hip bone while the short head is connected to the femur bone.
- Semimembranosus – This muscle is characterized by its flat tendon of origin. It is located deep into the semitendinosus and originates from the ischial tuberosity on the inferior pelvis.
- Semitendinosus – This muscle is located in between the biceps femoris and semimembranosus. It is a long tendon of insertion which helps the two other latter muscles to produce dynamic movements.
This muscle group is also known as the “inner thigh muscles” and contains five muscles. They hold the thighs and the rest of the muscles together and function to stabilize and balance the movement of the body from left to right.
The five muscles included in the adductors muscle group are:
- Adductor magnus – This is a large triangular muscle inside the thighs. Its two main parts are the pubofemoral portion (arising from the ischiopubic ramus) and the ischiocondylar portion (arising from the tuberosity of the ischium).
- Adductor longus – This is a skeletal muscle that forms the medial wall of the femoral triangle. It is a hip abductor that helps manage the movement of the thigh bone inwards and sideways.
- Adductor brevis – This muscle is deep within the adductor longus. It is the smallest and shortest among all the muscles in the adductor group and functions mainly to pull the thigh medially.
- Obturator muscles – This is a flat triangular muscle covering the outer surface of the wall of the pelvis. It further consists of two muscles: namely the obturator internus and obturator externus. The obturator externus functions to stabilize the head of the femur which helps in producing a balanced movement of the trunk.
- Gracilis – This thin and flat muscle is found in the groin. It is the outermost external muscle of the inside of the thigh which functions to manage hip adduction and knee flexing.
Before we continue listing the muscles on the lower legs and feet, we should first take a look at the largest joint in the body.
Our knees connect the upper and lower legs together. They bear the weight of the upper body.
By allowing us to bend, pivot, and rotate, these joints make walking, jumping, and running possible.
The following are not necessarily muscles but knowing them gives a bigger picture of the anatomy of the whole leg.
Our knees are surrounded by four major connective tissues or ligaments. These support the joints and prevent them from moving too much.
- Lateral collateral ligament – stabilizes the outer knee
- Anterior cruciate ligament – keeps the tibia from moving too far forward
- Medial collateral ligament – stabilizes the inner knee
- Posterior cruciate ligament – keeps the knee from moving too far backward
The ligaments are prone to wears and tears which often cause knee pain.
4. Calf Leg Muscles
The calf muscles are the muscles surrounding the tibia and fibula helping the ankles, toes, and feet pivot. Here are some of the major muscles in the calves:
- Gastrocnemius – This is also known as the calf muscle. This is one of the largest muscles of the leg and helps the foot, ankle, and toes to extend and flex. It is a very powerful muscle that contributes a large portion of the muscle group at the back portion of the lower leg.
- Soleus – Just below the gastrocnemius, connected by the Achilles tendon is the soleus. It is located from below the knee to the heel and helps in stabilizing the legs while standing or walking. It provides powerful forces to the ankles and joints and connects the bones around the area.
- Plantaris – This is a small muscle found at the back of the lower leg. Like the first two muscles mentioned, it’s involved in plantar flexion.
- Extensor Digitorum Longus – This is a long, thin muscle that extends down the front of the shin, across the ankle joint, and into the toes. It allows the extension of the toes and the bending of the feet upward through the ankle joint.
- Tibialis Muscles – Located at the front and back sides of the lower leg, these muscles allow dorsiflexion or the pointing of the foot and toes upward, plantar flexion, and supporting each foot’s arch.
- Peroneus Muscles – These are found on the lower leg’s front side. They also help in dorsiflexion.
- Tibialis Anterior – The tibialis anterior is the muscle found in the shin and is responsible for the flexing of the ankle. It is located on the lateral side of the tibia and is the largest muscle in the anterior portion of the leg. Some of its functions include the dorsiflexion and inversion of the foot.
What is plantar flexion? The flexing of the feet or toes downward the sole
Other Important Structures
- Fibular Nerves – These nerves stimulate the anterior lower leg muscles
- Tibial Nerves – Tibial nerves stimulate the posterior lower leg muscles. In some sciatic nerve pain patients, they may also hurt since they branch our from this major nerve of the leg.
- Achilles Tendon – This tendon attaches the calf muscles to the bones of the foot and ankle.
5. Flexor Hallucis Longus
This muscle is one of the three posterior compartment deep muscles which link the plantar surface of the big toe’s distal phalanx. It’s found on the leg’s fibular side.
It’s involved in plantar flexion and inversion of the foot. It can also flex the big toe and help in supination of the ankle.
6. Tibialis Posterior
This is a relatively small muscle found within the back of the calf which extends to the posterior compartment of the leg. It inverts the foot and helps in plantar flexion.
7. Extensor Hallucis Longus
This is a thin leg muscle located between the tibialis anterior and extensor digitorum longus. It’s involved in extending the big toe, bending the foot backward, and assisting with foot inversion and eversion.
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The leg muscles enable the different movements and activities of the lower part of the body. These muscles manage our daily leg activities such as standing, sitting, walking, running, etc.
Knowing more about muscles in your legs will help you understand how the body functions and how the different muscles work together to produce movement.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 9, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.