By Gavin Buehler
The adductor magnus is another one of those muscles that never seems to get the attention it deserves considering the global impact it may have on our structure. Clinically, I’ve found dysfunction in this muscle to commonly be correlated with hip and or low back pain among other things. Let’s take a closer look as to why this might be happening.
The adductor magnus has such a grand name because it is a grand muscle! It is one of the largest muscles in the human body and is the biggest, most powerful, and most complex in the group of 7 muscles that adduct your thighs. These muscles are located around your inner thigh area and are generally known for squeezing your legs together. But there’s much more going on with each muscle than just that, so let’s look at why the adductor magnus is unique.
Where Is It? What Does It Look Like?
This muscle has multiple attachment points on your pelvis originating from the inferior pubic ramus (bottom front of your pelvis), ischial ramus (bottom of your pelvis) and at the ischial tuberosity (that prominent sit bone). It then fans out down the thigh where each portion of the muscle has its own distinct attachment point spanning the femur (thigh bone) connecting along the posterior proximal surface, the linea aspera and the adductor tubercle just on the inside knee area. That is a massive amount of connection surface which gives us the impression that this muscle is probably important, so why doesn’t anyone talk about it?
What Does It Do?
Here’s the thing, most literature states its main function as adduction of the hip joint (squeezing the thigh bone toward your midline). Not much to talk about there. But, if we think of how we move, we aren’t frequently in a center split position that would necessitate such a large muscle with the broad attachment areas it has, plus have 6 additional muscles to help with that action. I would say that hip adduction is its most obvious function but argue that it’s performing more of its “secondary” actions on the regular.
Your hips and pelvis are central cross points in the body that bear a significant amount load and torsion and are involved in nearly every bodily movement. This is an area that requires a lot of stability from many different angles. The adductor magnus is a big dynamic stabilizer for the pelvis and hip joint and contributes to hip extension, flexion, internal and external rotation.
Wait what? How does this one muscle perform opposing actions to the actions it performs? Well, if we revisit its shape and multiple attachment points, different sections of this muscle have different lines of pull. The angle of your hip will also dictate how this muscle is being activated. For example, studies have shown that in hip flexion positions such as a squat or hip hinge, the adductor magnus is a more effective hip extensor than either your hamstrings or gluteus maximus.
This muscle’s “secondary” functions are being frequently used in daily living more so than its traditionally stated main function. Walking is a good example. Every action this muscle is known to perform occurs as each full stride requires dynamic pelvic and hip stability, hip flexion, extension, a little bit if internal and external rotation and a small amount of adduction. We can see how the “secondary” actions take precedence during our most common form of movement.
From a fascial perspective this muscle is part of the deep front line which has significant connections throughout the body which I won’t dive into here, but it’s an important visual to mention.
Now that we have a little more information on this muscle, it’s easy to see the impact it might have. Here’s a few possible scenarios to consider.
Tight hamstrings? The adductor magnus greatly assists the hamstring muscles with both pelvic stability and hip extension. If you look at the cross-section diagram of the thigh, you will notice that its girth is greater than any of the hamstring muscles. If this muscle is weak or functioning incorrectly, because of their shared functions, the hamstrings are going to be first inline to pick-up the slack. If they are pulling double duty, continuously stretching them without tending to your adductor magnus is not going to loosen them up.
Hip Joint Pain? The adductor magnus connects to both the pelvis and the femur (thigh bone). While it doesn’t directly cross the hip joint capsule area, it has massive pull on both the femur and the pelvis. If this muscle’s tension is irregular (tight, loose), it will inevitably affect how the femur sits in its socket as well as how it articulates. I’ve found dysfunction in this muscle in many cases of hip pain such as FAI (femoral acetabular impingement) or pinching in the front of the hip, and lateral hip pain.
Back Pain? We know that excessive anterior or posterior pelvic tilt can lead to back pain as it affects how your sacrum sits and how your spine stacks. Due to the pelvic attachments of the adductor magnus, this muscle can be a big contributor to your pelvic alignment. It can even have a compounding effect as you have two of these muscles for each side of your pelvis and thighs. If one side has a different tension from the other you will also have a pelvic rotation stacked on top of a suboptimal pelvic tilt, placing more strain on muscles working to stabilize your spine, especially in the lower back area. Now imagine you add a bend, hip hinge or squat to that recipe which calls on the adductor magnus for action, and you’re ripe for an injury. While on the topic of pelvic tilt, for those of you that have a butt wink when you squat (when your butt tucks under at the bottom of your squat), your adductor magnus’ might be playing a large role in that.
Once again, I’m not claiming this is the reason for the issues listed above, but it may be a contributing factor and something worth investigating if you suffer from any of the above symptoms as I’ve found it to be largely overlooked in many cases. Whether it’s a cause or a symptom, the tissue health of this muscle is important to restore optimal structural alignment and health.
Strength and flexibility are great ways to keep these muscles healthy. In the past I’ve shared a couple adductor stretches that you can revisit in this blog post here. In this month’s F.I.T. Tip I will share some cues for one of my favorite exercises to hit this muscle as well as a unique variation to help balance both sides.
I hope that you found this information helpful and as always, this article is for educational purposes only. Please consult a health professional before attempting new exercises or protocols, as the content of this article may or may not be appropriate for you.