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Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Posterior Thigh



Anderson TB, Vilella RC. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Posterior Thigh. [Updated 2020 Feb 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from:
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Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Posterior Thigh
Thomas B. Anderson; Renato C. Vilella .
Last Update: February 1, 2020.
The posterior thigh is a functional unit of the lower body that helps to connect the pelvis to the knee. It plays a
significant role in the lower limb, pelvis, and locomotor system biomechanics.
The posterior thigh has wide functions, such as the dependency of the kinetic chain to perform agonist-antagonist
movements. The three muscles of the posterior thigh stabilize the knee and help to stabilize the pelvis.
Structure and Function
The posterior compartment of the thigh is separated from the anterior compartment by the lateral intermuscular
septum and the medial compartment by the posterior intermuscular septum. The femur is the bony structure that
provides support to the muscles, nerves, and vasculature in the posterior thigh. The posterior thigh is composed of
three muscles: biceps femoris long and short head, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus. These three muscles are
collectively referred to as the hamstring muscles. The hamstring muscles in the open kinetic chain allow extension of
the hip and flexion of the knee, and when in the closed kinetic chain, allow extension of the knee.[1] Within the
posterior thigh, various neurovascular and lymphatic structures aid in moving fluid to and from the lower limb. The
nerves of the posterior thigh originate from the lumbar and sacral plexuses. As the sciatic nerve pierces the greater
sciatic foramen, it travels down the posterior thigh posterior to the long head of the biceps femoris.[2] The sciatic
nerve and its two branches provide all motor innervation to the posterior thigh.
Each part of the human body develops from either ectoderm, mesoderm, or endoderm. Muscles, bone, connective
tissue, lymphatics, blood, and other structures originate from mesoderm. Limb buds develop from mesenchymal cells
that are activated by lateral plate mesoderm around four weeks of gestational age. The limbs become anatomically
positioned at birth through the interaction of several growth factors. Essential growth factors include sonic hedgehog
(SHH), fibroblast growth factor (FGF), and the homeobox (Hox) genes. SHH allows for the proper growth and
development of the limbs and interacts with FGF to ensure the normal development of each limb. FGF and Wnt-
7 genes contribute to lengthening and dorsal-ventral positioning of the limbs, respectively. Both are localized at the
apical ridge. Hox genes are responsible for segmental development in the craniocaudal direction. Specifically, the
posterior thigh muscles derive from the paraxial mesoderm of the lower limb buds. Around week 8 of gestational
development, the lower limbs begin to rotate medially. This rotation allows the hamstring muscles to reach their final
posterior position.[1][2]
Blood Supply and Lymphatics
The primary blood supply to the lower limb arises from the femoral artery and the inferior gluteal artery. The femoral
artery is a continuation of the external iliac artery as it passes under the inguinal ligament. The femoral artery
branches into the deep femoral artery. The inferior gluteal artery branches from the internal iliac artery to supply the
proximal portions of the muscles.[3] Together, these arteries supply the majority of the posterior thigh. The venous
drainage in the lower limb is mainly through the great saphenous and small saphenous veins. All lower limb veins
eventually drain into the femoral vein before reaching the external iliac vein. There are two different categories of
veins that are described based on their location to the fascial compartments. The veins located deep to the fascia help
to drain the muscles while the veins that are superficial to the fascia help to drain the skin. Lymphatic drainage from
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the posterior thigh travels through various lymphatic vessels before reaching the deep inguinal nodes and, eventually,
the external iliac nodes.[4]
Together, the lumbar and sacral plexus supply innervation to the lower extremity. The sacral plexus gives rise to the
sciatic nerve (L4-S3), posterior femoral nerve (S1-S3), superior gluteal nerve (L4-S1), and inferior gluteal nerve (L5-
S2).[5] All motor innervation to the posterior thigh derives from the tibial division of the sciatic nerve except for the
short head of the biceps femoris, which is innervated by the peroneal division of the sciatic nerve.[6] The posterior
cutaneous nerve of the thigh supplies sensation to the skin of the perineum and posterior surface of the thigh.[7]
The muscles that make up the posterior compartment of the leg include the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and
the semimembranosus.[8] Two heads make up the biceps femoris, a short head, and a long head. The semitendinosus
and biceps femoris long head muscles sit superficial to the semimembranosus and biceps femoris short head muscles.
The perforating branches of the deep femoral artery provide blood supply to all four muscles. The biceps femoris
short head originates from the linea aspera and lateral supracondylar line of femur.[9] The biceps femoris long head,
semitendinosus, and semimembranosus muscles all originate from the ischial tuberosity. The biceps femoris muscles
attach to the lateral side of the head of the fibula. The semitendinosus and semimembranosus attach to the medial
surface of the tibia. As a group, the hamstring muscles primarily work to extend the hip and flex the knee. The
exception to this rule is the short head of the biceps femoris, which only acts to flex the knee. These movements are
an integral part of normal gait and daily function. The hamstrings provide stability while standing by securing the hip
joint so the body can remain upright. Additionally, the hamstrings provide slight external or internal rotation based on
insertion points distally.[10] The innervation for these muscles is via the sciatic nerve. However, the short head of the
biceps femoris receives specific innervation via the common peroneal division of the sciatic nerve. All other
hamstrings receive innervation from the tibial division of the sciatic nerve.
Surgical Considerations
One of the most common tendons used in orthopedic surgery is the semitendinous tendon. The use of this tendon can
result in negative changes for the locomotor system, also as the knee biomechanics.
After the use of semitendinous tendon in orthopedic surgery, the knee can be more unstable during the rehabilitation
phase, and as the semitendinous muscle is a medial rotator, the individual can develop a lateral rotation movement
dominance that can lead to overuse of biceps femoris and dysfunctions of near joints, also by overuse.[11]
Clinical Significance
The popliteal fossa is of clinical importance when considering posterior knee dislocation or needing to harvest a
vessel for graft. The diamond-shaped fossa is bound by the semimembranosus and semitendinosus superomedially,
the lateral and medial heads of the gastrocnemius inferolaterally and inferomedially, the biceps femoris
superolaterally, and the skin and popliteal fascia superficially. The most superficial structure in the popliteal fossa is
the sciatic nerve, which splits at the apex of the fossa into the tibial and common peroneal nerves. The next deepest
structure is the popliteal vein. Finally, the popliteal artery is the deepest neurovascular structure before reaching the
knee joint. The popliteal artery gives off five genicular branches that supply the knee capsule and ligaments. If there
were a mass or injury that caused occlusion to the popliteal artery, then the blood supply to the knee would be
Sciatica is a term commonly used to describe radiating leg pain. It refers to inflammation or compression of the sciatic
nerve roots. There is no clear definition of sciatica, leading to variation in distinguishing it from other sources of low
back pain. Some common signs and symptoms of sciatica are pain that radiates from the lower back down the
posterior thigh, knee weakness, difficulty in rotating the ankle, and slow ankle reflexes. There are paresthesia,
numbness, and weakness in areas innervated by the sciatic nerve. The etiology of sciatica is multifactorial and can
stem from anything related to compression and inflammation of the nerve or its nerve roots. Some common examples
are piriformis syndrome, pregnancy, herniated vertebral discs, or lumbar stenosis. An anomaly seen in roughly 10% of
the population that is related to piriformis syndrome occurs when the sciatic nerve either penetrates the piriformis
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muscle or travels superior to the muscle before descending the posterior thigh. These variations lead to an easier
mechanism of compression of the sciatic nerve with only slight hypertrophy in the piriformis muscle.[12][13][14]
A common injury among athletes of all levels is a hamstring strain. The injury typically occurs with sudden
lengthening of the hamstrings or rapid changes in speed or direction. These actions are common for people involved
in high-risk activities like football, track, and rugby. In addition to being highly prevalent, hamstring injuries tend to
recur due to poor rehabilitation or premature return to activity. Because the biceps femoris has the greatest
musculotendinous stretch, it is the most frequently injured muscle of the hamstrings from running. A
typical hamstring strain is characterized by pain in the posterior thigh, which can be exacerbated by passive knee
extension, resisted knee flexion, or hip extension. When evaluating anyone with a possible hamstring injury, clinicians
must consider other diagnostic possibilities such as tight quadriceps tendon, lumbosacral radiculopathy, piriformis
syndrome, strong lumbopelvic muscles, or adductor strain.[15]
To access free multiple choice questions on this topic, click here.
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Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Hamstring Muscle. [PubMed: 31536294]
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Tensor Fasciae Latae Muscles, Abductor of the Thigh, Thoracic Vertebrae, Quadratus Lumborum, Psoas Minor
and Major, Crest of Ilium, Anterior Superior Spine, Iliacus, Tensor Fascia Latae, Sartorius, Pectineus, Adductor
Longus, Gracilis, Adductor Magnus, Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis and Medialis, Tibia, Patella, Tendon of
Quadriceps. Contributed by Gray's Anatomy Plates
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Thigh Cross sectional Anatomy. Contributed by Gray's Anatomy Plates
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Muscles of the Thigh, Gluteus Maximus; Medius; Minimus, Piriformis, Gemellus Superior; Inferior, Obturator
Internus, Adductor Magnus, Vastus Lateralis, Biceps Femoris, Semitendinosus, Hamstring Tendons, Gracilis.
Contributed by Gray's Anatomy Plates
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Thigh nerves. Image courtesy S Bhimji MD
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The image shows the muscle areas that make up the complex of the muscles of the posterior portion of the thigh:
hamstring muscles. Contributed by Bruno Bordoni, PhD
Copyright © 2020, StatPearls Publishing LLC.
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... Moreover, since knee valgus can be caused by a femoral anteversion and/or an external tibial torsion, these conditions increase the adductor muscles stress, negatively affecting a task such as gait pattern [25][26][27][28]. For example, the semimembranosus along with semitendinosus muscle are located in the medial side of the posterior thigh compartment and, based on their distal insertion, are responsible for the knee internal rotation as in the knee valgus [29]. As a consequence, we suggest that these conditions may cause differences in both muscle tone and strength of some muscles and our targeted integrated intervention improved muscle balance leading to reach higher VJ height. ...
Full-text available
Background: Although a knee valgus position is related to the increase in injury risk in volleyball players, there is a lack of studies on the relationship between knee valgus and vertical jump (VJ) performance. Hence, the aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a postural exercise program on VJ height in young female volleyball players with knee valgus. Methods: This pilot study included 19 young female volleyball players divided into the following groups: the Valgus Experimental Group (VEG); the Valgus Control Group (VCG); and the Neutral Control Group (NCG). All three groups carried out the same volleyball training program. In addition, only the VEG underwent a 3-month postural exercise program of 30-45 min/session, twice/week. VJ performance was measured through the Sargent test before (T0), at 6 weeks (T1), and at 12 weeks (T2). Results: A significant effect from T0 to T1 (p = 0.0017) and from T0 to T2 (p = 0.0001) was found in the VEG. No significant differences were found over time in the VCG and in the NCG. Conclusion: An integrated postural exercise program might lead to a more balanced muscle efficiency inducing athletes to obtain a higher VJ performance.
Sciatic nerve block high in the gluteal region provides anaesthesia and analgesia to the back of the thigh, knee and the whole leg (with the exception of the area supplied by the saphenous nerve). The nerve can be blocked by either anterior or posterior approaches. The anatomy, sonoanatomy and the techniques will be described in this chapter.KeywordsSciatic nerve blockSubglutealAnterior approach
Full-text available
Background Identification of sciatica may assist timely management but can be challenging in clinical practice. Diagnostic models to identify sciatica have mainly been developed in secondary care settings with conflicting reference standard selection. This study explores the challenges of reference standard selection and aims to ascertain which combination of clinical assessment items best identify sciatica in people seeking primary healthcare. Methods Data on 394 low back-related leg pain consulters were analysed. Potential sciatica indicators were seven clinical assessment items. Two reference standards were used: (i) high confidence sciatica clinical diagnosis; (ii) high confidence sciatica clinical diagnosis with confirmatory magnetic resonance imaging findings. Multivariable logistic regression models were produced for both reference standards. A tool predicting sciatica diagnosis in low back-related leg pain was derived. Latent class modelling explored the validity of the reference standard. Results Model (i) retained five items; model (ii) retained six items. Four items remained in both models: below knee pain, leg pain worse than back pain, positive neural tension tests and neurological deficit. Model (i) was well calibrated (p = 0.18), discrimination was area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC) 0.95 (95% CI 0.93, 0.98). Model (ii) showed good discrimination (AUC 0.82; 0.78, 0.86) but poor calibration (p = 0.004). Bootstrapping revealed minimal overfitting in both models. Agreement between the two latent classes and clinical diagnosis groups defined by model (i) was substantial, and fair for model (ii). Conclusion Four clinical assessment items were common in both reference standard definitions of sciatica. A simple scoring tool for identifying sciatica was developed. These criteria could be used clinically and in research to improve accuracy of identification of this subgroup of back pain patients.
Full-text available
Unlabelled: Hamstring strain injuries remain a challenge for both athletes and clinicians, given their high incidence rate, slow healing, and persistent symptoms. Moreover, nearly one third of these injuries recur within the first year following a return to sport, with subsequent injuries often being more severe than the original. This high reinjury rate suggests that commonly utilized rehabilitation programs may be inadequate at resolving possible muscular weakness, reduced tissue extensibility, and/or altered movement patterns associated with the injury. Further, the traditional criteria used to determine the readiness of the athlete to return to sport may be insensitive to these persistent deficits, resulting in a premature return. There is mounting evidence that the risk of reinjury can be minimized by utilizing rehabilitation strategies that incorporate neuromuscular control exercises and eccentric strength training, combined with objective measures to assess musculotendon recovery and readiness to return to sport. In this paper, we first describe the diagnostic examination of an acute hamstring strain injury, including discussion of the value of determining injury location in estimating the duration of the convalescent period. Based on the current available evidence, we then propose a clinical guide for the rehabilitation of acute hamstring injuries, including specific criteria for treatment progression and return to sport. Finally, we describe directions for future research, including injury-specific rehabilitation programs, objective measures to assess reinjury risk, and strategies to prevent injury occurrence. Level of evidence: Diagnosis/therapy/prevention, level 5.
Hamstring injuries are very common in sports medicine. Knowing their anatomy, morphology, innervation, and function is important to provide a proper diagnosis, treatment as well as appropriate prevention strategies. In this pictorial essay, based on anatomical dissection, the detailed anatomy of muscle–tendon complex is reviewed, including their proximal attachment, muscle course, and innervation. To illustrate hamstrings’ role in the rotational control of the tibia, the essay also includes the analysis of their biomechanical function.
Objective: The goal of our study was to analyze the prevalence of branching pattern variations in the popliteal artery (PA) along with morphometrics of the PA to better address its importance in disease and vascular surgical procedures. Methods: An extensive search for the PA and its anatomic variations was done in the major online medical databases. The anatomic data found were extracted and pooled for a meta-analysis. Results: A total of 33 studies (N = 12,757 lower limbs) were included in the analysis. The most common variant was a division of the PA below the knee into the anterior tibial artery and a common trunk for the posterior tibial and peroneal arteries, with a prevalence of 92.6% (95% confidence interval [CI], 90.2-93.8). The second most common variation was a trifurcation pattern of all three branches dividing within 0.5 cm of each other, with a prevalence of 2.4% (95% CI, 1.4-3.5). Of the three studies that reported the diameter of the PA at the level of the subcondylar plane, a mean diameter of 8 mm (95% CI, 7.29-8.70) was found. Conclusions: The PA most commonly divides below the knee into the anterior tibial artery and the common trunk of the posterior tibial artery and the peroneal artery. Knowledge of the prevalence of possible variations in this anatomy as well as morphometric data is crucial in the planning and execution of any surgical intervention in the area of the knee.
Knowledge of the lymphatic anatomy in the lower extremity is inadequate. A reevaluation is needed to assist in guiding clinical management. A total of five lower extremities from three unembalmed human cadavers were studied. Under a surgical microscope, 6% hydrogen peroxide was used to detect the lymphatic vessels commencing from the foot, the leg, and the thigh. A 30-gauge needle was inserted into the vessels and injected with a radiopaque lead oxide mixture. The vessels were traced, photographed, and radiographed to demonstrate the superficial lymphatic pathways of the lower extremity. The final results were transferred to the computer for image analysis. Numerous lymph collecting vessels were identified in the subcutaneous tissue and the superficial femoral vascular bundle of the lower extremity. They originated beneath the dermis of each side of the toes, the foot, and the lateral side of the thigh. The diameters of the vessels varied from 0.2 to 2.2 mm. The vessels traveled in the subcutaneous tissue of the lower limb toward the popliteal, femoral, superficial, and deep inguinal lymph nodes. During their tortuous course, some vessels branched, diverged, and converged; sometimes, they anastomosed with neighboring vessels or crossed them. Most vessels converged to form larger collectors and then diverged into small branches before entering the lymph nodes. Accurate lymphatic distribution within the lower extremity has been described. This information upgrades our anatomical knowledge, and the results will be of benefit for clinical management.
Increasing activity in the general population and the high demands placed on athletes have resulted in injuries to the hamstring muscle complex (HMC) being commonplace in sports. Imaging of HMC injuries can form a considerable part of a sports medicine practice, with a wide spectrum of such injuries being reflected in their varied imaging appearances. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging and ultrasonography (US) are the imaging modalities of choice in this setting. Both MR imaging and US provide exquisitely detailed information about the HMC with respect to localization and characterization of injury. Optimization of MR imaging involves the use of a surface coil and high-resolution techniques, allowing the musculoskeletal radiologist not only to diagnose injury and assess severity but also to provide the clinician with useful clues with respect to prognosis. The portability and availability of US make it an attractive modality for the diagnosis of acute hamstring injuries, although its effectiveness is dependent on operator experience. A thorough knowledge of the HMC anatomy and of the spectrum of imaging findings in HMC injury is crucial for providing optimal patient care and will enable the musculoskeletal radiologist to make an accurate and useful contribution to the treatment of athletes at all levels of participation.
The objectives of our study were to describe the previously unreported normal MR anatomy of the distal biceps femoris muscle and its relationship with the common peroneal nerve and to present a case in which previously unreported MR evidence of an anatomic variation in the distal biceps femoris muscle was associated with common peroneal entrapment neuropathy. One hundred consecutive 1.5-T knee MR studies of 97 asymptomatic patients were retrospectively reviewed by two observers in consensus for, first, normal anatomy of the distal biceps femoris muscle; second, anatomic variations of the muscle; and, third, the relationship of the muscle to the common peroneal nerve. Measurements of the distal and posterior extents of the short and long heads of the biceps femoris were performed. An MR study of a symptomatic patient with clinical evidence of common peroneal neuropathy associated with a surgically proven anatomic variation of the distal biceps femoris was reviewed. Two MR anatomic patterns were seen in the asymptomatic patient group: First, in 77 knees (77%), the common peroneal nerve was located within abundant fat posterolateral to the biceps femoris; and, second, in 23 cases (23%), the common peroneal nerve traversed within a narrow fatty tunnel between the biceps femoris and lateral head of the gastrocnemius muscles. There was a positive correlation between the distal and posterior extents of the short head of the biceps femoris muscle and the presence of the tunnel. Variations in the posterior and distal extents of the biceps femoris muscle can produce a tunnel in which the common peroneal nerve travels. We also described a case of common peroneal neuropathy secondary to tunnel formation.
Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Posterior Thigh Muscles
  • J E Vaughn
  • W B Cohen-Levy
  • Statpearls
Vaughn JE, Cohen-Levy WB. StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing; Treasure Island (FL): May 20, 2019. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb, Posterior Thigh Muscles. [PubMed: 31194372]