The Anatomy of the Gracilis Muscle

A Groin Muscle that Adducts (Pulls Together) the Thighs

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The gracilis muscle is a long, thin muscle in each of your inner thighs that extends past your knee. The gracilis muscles' main functions include pulling your thighs together (adduction), rotating your hips inward and outward, and bending each knee with the help of your hamstrings.

This article takes an in-depth look at the anatomy of the gracilis muscles as well as the injuries that commonly affect them. It also explains how gracilis muscle injuries are treated with exercise, stretches, rehabilitation, and medications.

Photo of a woman stretching her groin.
HRAUN / Getty Images

Anatomy of the Gracilis Muscles

The gracilis muscles are superficial bands of muscle that start at the lower part of your pelvis (called the pubic ramus) and run down your inner thigh and past the inner knee, where it connects with the upper part of your shin bone (tibia). The name gracilis comes from the Latin term for "slender."

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

The gracilis muscle is serviced by a branch of the obturator nerve. This is the same nerve that services the adductor longus, another muscle that extend from the pubis ramus to the middle of the thigh bone (femur). The gracilis and adductor longus are two of seven muscles classified as hip adductors.

The gracilis muscles also work with the hamstrings, sartorius, gastrocnemius, plantaris, and popliteus muscles to bend the knee. Together, these muscles are known as knee flexors.

Function of the Gracilis Muscles

The gracilis muscles work with other muscles to facilitate certain leg movements, namely:

  • Hip adduction: In which you draw the thighs together
  • Medial hip rotation: In which the thighs are turned inward
  • Lateral hip rotation: In which the thighs are turned outward
  • Knee flexion: In which the knee is bent

When you are walking or running, the gracilis muscle helps stabilize the inner hip and thigh, lightly contracting with each step to keep your hip in the optimum position. It also keeps the hip and thigh stable as the hamstring does the major lifting of the knee with each step.

Associated Conditions

There are several conditions that directly and indirectly affect the gracilis muscles. These can cause discomfort or pain and affect your ability to walk, run, kick, jump, and navigate stairs.

Groin Strain

A sudden force or pull to your gracilis can cause it to tear, leading to a groin strain. Also known as a groin pull, the injury can cause pain, bruising, and weakness in your inner thigh and groin.

Groin strains can range in severity from grade 1 (a mild stretch or tear) to grade 3 (the complete rupture of the full thickness of the muscle).

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms are involuntary contractions of muscles that can range in severity from mild to debilitating. The spasms may be throbbing or cause intense, prolonged stiffening (known as cramps).

Neurological (nerve-related) conditions such as multiple sclerosis or stroke can cause gracilis muscle spasms. Spasms can also arise from muscle overuse, such as can occur with soccer, hockey, football, and basketball athletes who place excessive strain on their inner thigh muscles.

Pinched Nerves

Pinched nerves, also known as radiculopathy, occur when an injury or condition affecting the lumbar spine compresses nerves.

The lumbar spine, which consists of five vertebrae of the lower back, is rich in nerves that service the muscle of the legs, including the gracilis muscle. Compression of these nerves may not only cause pain but also muscle weakness.

Common causes of radiculopathy include:

Treatment and Rehabilitation

If you have injured your gracilis muscle, there are several different treatments your healthcare provider may recommend based on the extent and severity of your symptoms.

Severe injuries to the gracilis muscle require prolonged rest and rehabilitation, often healing within four to six weeks. The complete rupture of a gracilis muscle may take longer.


If you are experiencing pain and swelling due to a gracilis muscle injury, your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen).

Analgesics like Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help decrease pain but not swelling.

Chronic, severe muscle spasms may be alleviated by anti-spasmodic drugs like Valium (diazepam) and Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine).

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help speed your recovery from a gracilis muscle injury, improving your strength, range of motion, and functional mobility (meaning the ability to move without undue impairment).

Physical therapy options include:

  • Ice application: Cold decreases blood flow and, in turn, reduces swelling and pain after an acute muscle injury.
  • Heat application: Heat increases blood flow, alleviating pain and stiffness while aiding in the healing of injured muscles.
  • Therapeutic ultrasound: This involves the use of high-frequency sound waves to stimulate blood flow, ease pain, and speed healing.
  • Electrical stimulation. Low-intensity electrical pulses may also decrease pain, improve circulation, and stimulate muscle repair.
  • Kinesiology taping: Strips of elastic tape applied to the injured muscle may decrease pain and help stabilize the muscle while undergoing rehabilitation.
  • Therapeutic massage: Your physical therapist may use massage to improve circulation, relax spasms, and increase muscle flexibility.

Exercises and Stretches

Exercise and stretching are the main tools used for rehabilitation from a gracilis muscle injury. A physical therapist can help design a safe and progressive program.

Here are six simple stretches that may help:

Butterfly Stretch

  1. Sit on the floor in an upright position.
  2. Place the soles of your feet together.
  3. Hold your feet together with your hands.
  4. Gently move your knees toward the floor to feel a slight stretch.
  5. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Release and relax.
  7. Repeat five times.

Groin Squeeze

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent.
  2. Place a rolled-up towel or pillow between your knees.
  3. Gently squeeze the towel with your knees.
  4. Hold the squeeze for five seconds.
  5. Release.
  6. Repeat 10 times.

Straight Leg Raise

  1. Lie on your back on the floor.
  2. Bend one knee, placing your foot flat on the floor. Straighten the other leg.
  3. Lift the straight leg at a 45-degree angle (or as high as you can go).
  4. Hold for three seconds.
  5. Lower your leg.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Standing Hip Adduction with a Resistance Band

  1. Secure the resistance band to a table leg.
  2. Stand with your side toward the table.
  3. Place the band around the ankle nearest to the table leg.
  4. Space your feet roughly shoulder-width apart.
  5. Gently pull your leg towards the midline of your body.
  6. Hold for three seconds.
  7. Slowly release.
  8. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Lumbar Spine Press-Up

  1. Lie face down with your hands flat on the floor beneath your shoulders.
  2. Keeping your hips and back relaxed, slowly press your upper body up with your hands, bending your back as much as comfortably possible.
  3. Hold for two seconds.
  4. Slowly release.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

Knees-to-Chest Stretch

  1. Lie on your back with both knees bent.
  2. Slowly lift your knees and grab hold with your hands.
  3. Gently pull your knees toward your chest, bending your spine.
  4. Hold for two seconds.
  5. Slowly release.
  6. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Exercises should be challenging but not painful. If there is any pain, stop and check with your physical therapist to see if you are doing the exercise correctly or if there are others you should be using.


The gracilis muscle runs from the inner groin and along the inner thigh to the bottom of the inner knee. It helps with hip adduction (in which you pull your legs together). It also helps you rotate your thighs inward and outward and help stabilize the knee when it is bent.

The gracilis muscle is vulnerable to injuries, including groin strains, muscle spasms, and pinched nerves that can cause pain and muscle weakness. These injuries may be treated with pain medications, physical therapy, and gentle exercises and stretches.

A Word From Verywell

If you are having difficulty walking and suspect you have a gracilis injury, see your healthcare provider right away. Most gracilis muscle injuries can be diagnosed based on a review of your symptoms and medical history along with a physical examination.

If needed, imaging tests such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can help visualize the muscle and confirm the extent of an injury or tear.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you stretch the gracilis muscle?

    One of the best and safest ways to stretch the gracilis muscles is with a butterfly stretch. This is done on the floor in a seated position with the soles of your feet placed together. Hold your feet and gently move your knees toward the floor. You will feel a gentle stretch in your groin and inner thighs.

  • Is the gracilis muscle a hip flexor?

    No, the gracilis muscle is one of seven hip adductor muscles that help draw the thighs together. The five hip flexor muscles—the iliacus, psoas, pectineus, rectus femoris, and sartorius—help you bend at the hip and lift your knee toward your chest.

  • Can a tight gracilis cause knee pain?

    A tight gracilis muscle can cause knee pain because it is involved in knee flexion (the bending of the knee). The overuse of the gracilis muscle from cycling or running can cause the muscle to stiffen and "pull" at the lower attachment point just below the knee. This can cause not only pain but local redness and swelling.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sedaghati P, Alizadeh MH, Shirzad E, Ardjmand A. Review of sport-induced groin injuries.Trauma Mon. 2013 Dec;18(3):107–12. doi:10.5812/traumamon.12666

  3. 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 J Sports Med. 2019;53:539-46. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097796

  4. Zhang X, Zhang Z, Wen J, Lu J, Sun Y, Sang D. The effectiveness of therapeutic strategies for patients with radiculopathy: a network meta-analysis. Mol Pain. 2018;14:1744806918768972. doi:10.1177/1744806918768972

  5. MedlinePlus. Hip flexor strain—aftercare.

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.