The Anatomy of the Lower Leg Muscles

The lower leg lies between the knee and the ankle. There are many muscles located in the lower leg, but there are three that are particularly well known—the gastrocnemius and the soleus, which are the most powerful muscles in the lower leg, and the anterior tibialis. The Achilles tendon is also located in the lower leg.

Female athelete running on a sidewalk
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Bone Structure of the Lower Leg

Lower Leg bones

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The lower leg comprises two very strong, long bones: the fibula the tibia (shinbone). The tibia is stronger and more prominent than the fibula. It is located toward the middle of the lower leg. The fibula, or calf bone, is smaller and located on the lower leg's outside.

The lower leg is also home to nerve fibers, including the superficial fibular (or peroneal) nerve, the deep fibular (or peroneal) nerve, and the tibial nerve. The primary muscle in this part of the body is the gastrocnemius, which gives the calf its signature bulging, muscular appearance.

The anterior tibial, posterior tibial, and fibular arteries are responsible for blood supply to the lower leg. The lower leg makes up a large portion of an individual's overall body weight. It is an essential structure for any weight-bearing activity, such as walking, standing, running, or jumping.

Common conditions that affect the lower leg include stress fractures, compartment syndrome, shin splints, and muscle tears.

Muscles of the Lower Leg

Lower leg muscles

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The lower leg is divided into four compartments that contain the various muscles of the lower leg—anterior, lateral, posterior and deep posterior.

Anterior Compartment

The anterior compartment, in the front of the shin, holds the tibialis anterior, the extensor digitorum longus, the extensor hallucis longus, and the peroneus tertius muscles. These muscles pull the toes and feet upward, a process known as dorsiflexion.

The tibialis anterior also assists in turning the foot inward. You can feel these muscles contract by placing your hand just to the outside of the tibia and pulling your foot up.

Lateral Compartment

The lateral compartment is along the outside of the lower leg. It contains the peroneus longus and peroneus brevis muscles. These muscles pull the toes and feet outward. They also help with pointing the foot, or plantarflexion. To feel these muscles contract, place your hand on the outside of your shin and turn your foot out.

Posterior Compartment

The posterior compartment holds the large muscles that we know as the calf muscles—the gastrocnemius and soleus. This compartment also contains plantaris muscle.

The gastrocnemius is shorter, thicker and has two inner and outer attachments. It is the most visible of the calf muscles. The soleus lies underneath. These three muscles attach to the Achilles tendon, and they all aid with plantarflexion.

Deep Posterior Compartment

The deep posterior compartment lies deep within the back of the lower leg. It includes the tibialis posterior, the flexor digitorum longus and the flexor hallucis longus.

The tibialis posterior pulls the foot inward, the flexor digitorum longus flexes the toes, and the flexor hallucis longus flexes the big toe. All three aid in plantarflexion.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes pain in the lower leg?

    There are a number of issues that can cause lower leg pain. These include:

    • Muscle cramps, known as charley horse
    • Injuries to the muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones
    • Peripheral artery disease, which causes problems with blood flow in the legs
    • Blood clot
    • Inflammation
    • Varicose veins
  • Why are my lower leg muscles so tight?

    Not moving enough can cause muscles to tighten, but so can overtraining. Other common reasons for tight muscles include dehydration, injury, or a side effect of medication such as cholesterol medicine. Calf muscles may also become extremely tight if you have plantar fasciitis.

  • Which muscles are in the lower leg?

    There are three main muscles: the tibialis anterior is in the front of the shin, the gastrocnemius forms the calf muscle, and the soleus which is attached to the Achilles tendon.

3 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.
  1. Cantrell AJ, Imonugo O, Varacallo M. Anatomy, bony pelvis and lower limb, leg bones. StatPearls.

  2. MedlinePlus. Leg pain.

  3. Bolívar YA, Munuera PV, Padillo JP. Relationship between tightness of the posterior muscles of the lower limb and plantar fasciitis. Foot Ankle Int. 2013;34(1):42-48. doi:10.1177%2F1071100712459173

By Elizabeth Quinn
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.