The Anatomy of the Gracilis Muscle

In This Article

The gracilis is a superficial muscle of your groin and inner thigh that serves to adduct your hip. (Adduction is the action of pulling in towards the midline of your body.) The muscle also serves to help your hamstrings bend your knee. Gracilis is superficial and is easily palpated. Its name comes from the Latin term for "slender." Injury to the gracilis can cause pain, loss of hip motion, and difficulty with function related to walking.

Anatomy

The gracilis originates from the pubic ramus of your pelvis near your pubic symphysis. It then courses down your inner thigh and behind the medial condyle of your femur to insert on the inner aspect of your tibia (shin bone). Its neighbors are the sartorius tendon and the semitendinosis tendon of your hamstring. All three of those tendons form the pes anserine (goose foot) insertion. A bursa lies beneath the three tendons of pes anserine, allowing them to glide and slide with minimal friction.

You have two gracilis muscles, one on each side of your body.

The gracilis muscle is innervated by the anterior branch of the obturator nerve. This nerve also innervates the adductor longus, another groin muscle and adductor of the thigh. The obturator nerve arises from lumbar level two, three, and four in your lower back.

Blood supply to the gracilis muscle is via the medial circumflex femoral artery.

Function

The gracilis muscle functions to adduct your thigh. This is the action of pulling your thigh in towards your other thigh. It is one of five groin muscles that perform this action. Since it attaches to your shin bone below your inner knee joint, it also serves to flex, or bend, your knee. The gracilis also functions to rotate your thigh medially, especially when your hip is in a flexed position.

While you are walking, the gracilis muscle is active in stabilizing the inner portion of your hip and thigh. It lightly contracts with each step to keep your hip joint in the optimum position. While your hamstrings are the major flexors of your knee joint, the gracilis assists them in bending your knee during walking and running.

Since the gracilis is a long and flat muscle with good blood supply, it can be used as a harvest muscle during reconstructive surgery. It is often used in facial and breast reconstruction, during hand surgery, or as an external anal sphincter.

Associated Conditions

Injury to the gracilis muscle may cause difficulty with walking and running activities. Conditions that may affect the gracilis may include:

  • Groin strain. A sudden force or pull to your gracilis can cause it to tear. This may cause pain, bruising, and a weak feeling in your inner thigh and groin. Groin strains can range from grade I (mild) to grade III (full thickness tear of the muscle).
  • Muscle spasm. Neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis or stoke may cause muscle spasticity in your gracilis. Muscle spasms from overuse or improper nutrition may also cause your gracilis to feel tight and go into spasm.
  • Weakness due to lumbar pathology. An injury to your low back may cause irritation of the nerve that supplies information to your gracilis. Herniated discs, disc degeneration, or lumbar facet arthritis can pinch on nerves, leading to pain or weakness in your gracilis.

If you are having difficulty walking and suspect you have a gracilis injury, see your physician right away. They can assess your condition and make an accurate diagnosis. Diagnosis of a gracilis problem is often made by history taking and physical examination. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to visualize the muscle and evaluate it for muscle tears or pathology.

Rehabilitation

If you have suffered an injury to your gracilis muscle, there are several different strategies you can utilize to help during your recovery. Keep in mind that most injuries to gracilis and its neighboring muscles heal within four to six weeks . Your specific injury may last a bit shorter or longer depending on the nature and severity of your injury.

Medication

If you are experiencing pain and inflammation in your inner thigh and gracilis, your physician may recommend medication. Anti-inflammatory medication can help decrease pain and localized swelling to the muscle. Over-the-counter non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be used to control inflammation. Analgesics like acetaminophen can help decrease pain.

If you are experiencing gracilis muscle spasm, your doctor may prescribe anti-spasmodic medications. Diazepam and cyclobenzaprine are two medications that may be used to control muscle spasm.

Be sure to understand the expected benefits, side effects, and risks associated with any medication that you are prescribed. Speak with your physician if you have any questions or concerns about medication.

Physical Therapy

You may benefit from physical therapy to rehab an injury to your gracilis muscle. Various treatments are available to decrease inflammation and improve your range of motion, strength, and functional mobility after a gracilis injury. These may include:

  • Exercise. Exercise should be your main tool in the treatment of gracilis injuries. Exercises can help improve flexibility, range of motion, and strength of the muscle.
  • Ice. Ice may be applied by your physical therapist to help control inflammation to the gracilis muscle. Ice decreases blood flow, decreasing swelling and pain in the muscle after a strain.
  • Heat. Your therapist may apply heat to your gracilis muscle during the rehab process. Heat helps to increase blood flow, bringing in oxygen and washing away metabolic waste that occurs with inflammation. Heat can also decrease pain and improve muscle extensibility prior to stretching.
  • Ultrasound. Ultrasound is a deep heating treatment often used in physical therapy. The treatment increases blood flow and speeds cellular mechanisms around injured tissues. A note of caution: ultrasound has not been shown to more effective than placebo for muscular strains. Still, you may encounter this treatment after a gracilis strain.
  • Electrical stimulation. Electrical stimulation is often used during rehab to decrease pain, improve circulation, and improve muscular function.
  • Kinesiology taping. A relatively newer treatment in rehab is the use of kinesiology taping, or K-tape. Strips of elastic tape are applied to the injured gracilis muscle. The goal of kinesiology taping is to decrease pain and improve muscle function of the gracilis.
  • Massage. Your physical therapist may use massage techniques to help improve muscle function after a gracilis injury. Massage improves circulation, relaxes spasm, and improve tissue mobility prior to stretching.

Keep in mind that you must remain an active participant during your therapy for a gracilis injury. Your therapist should teach you exercises and strategies to improve your condition and to prevent future problems with your gracilis.

Specific Exercises

Many people benefit from specific exercises after a gracilis injury. These can help improve muscular flexibility, function, and your overall mobility. Be sure to talk to your physician or physical therapist before starting any exercise program for your gracilis.

Exercises for your gracilis may include:

  • The butterfly groin stretch. Sit in an upright position. Place the soles of your feet together by bending your knees and rotating your thighs outward. A gentle should be felt in your groin and inner thigh as your knees lower down towards the floor. Hold the stretched position for 15 to 30 seconds, and then allow your knees to rise up, releasing the stretch. Repeat five times.
  • The groin squeeze for groin strength. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Place a rolled-up towel or pillow between your knees. Gently squeeze the towel with your inner knees, and hold this squeeze for five seconds. Slowly release. Repeat the exercise 10 times.
  • Straight leg raises. To strengthen your hip adductors using a straight leg raise, lie on one side. The side to be strengthened should be down towards the floor. Bend your top knee and place your foot flat on the floor in front of your lower thigh and knee. Keep your lower knee straight, and slowly lift it up in the air about six inches. Hold this position for three seconds, and then slowly lower your straight leg down. Repeat the movement 10 to 15 times.
  • Standing hip adduction with a resistance band. To perform this exercise, obtain a resistance band from your physical therapist or the local sports equipment store. Secure the band to a steady object, like a table leg or post. Place the band around your ankle, and gently pull it in towards the mid-line of your body. Hold this position for three seconds, and slowly release. Repeat the movement 10 to 15 times.
  • Lumbar stretches. If a pinched nerve in your lower back is causing gracilis pain or weakness, performing lumbar stretches may be useful in relieving your pain. Common lumbar stretches include the prone press up and the knees to chest stretch. To perform the press up, lie face down with both hands flat on the floor beneath your shoulders. Keep your hips and back relaxed, and slowly press yourself up, bending your back backward. Hold the position for two seconds, and then slowly release. Repeat 10 times. The knees to chest stretch flexes your lumbar spine. It is done by lying on your back with both knees bent. Slowly lift your knees and grab hold with your hands. Gently pull your knees to your chest, bending your spine. Hold this stretch for two seconds, and repeat 10 to 15 times.

Exercises done for a gracilis injury should be challenging, but not painful. If any exercise causes lasting pain, stop it and check in with your physician.

Postoperative Considerations

If you have had surgery on your gracilis for a reconstructive procedure, be sure to follow your surgeon's advice during your recovery. Typically, the recovery after gracilis surgery takes about six to eight weeks. During the first week or two, you may be required to keep your thigh immobilized to allow the tissues around your gracilis to heal. Gradual range of motion and stretching is usually started three to four weeks after surgery. Gentle progressive strengthening of your gracilis begins four to six weeks after surgery, with a full recovery expected within two to three months.

Understanding the anatomy of the gracilis can help you make informed health care decisions in the event of an injury to this muscle.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Khan IA, Bordoni B, Varacallo M. Anatomy, bony pelvis and lower limb, thigh gracilis muscle. [Updated 2019 Feb 21]. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan.

  2. Werner J, Hägglund M, Ekstrand J, et al. Hip and groin time-loss injuries decreased slightly but injury burden remained constant in men’s professional football: the 15-year prospective UEFA Elite Club Injury Study. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019;53:539-546. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097796