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Part of 100+ Q&A about legs. See all.

How are the muscles in our legs different from muscles in the rest of our body?

The leg has the longest muscle in our body – The body’s longest muscle is the sartorius. It is a strap-like, narrow muscle which runs all the way from the hip to the knee. This is indeed a fascinating muscle – just imagine a muscle that starts from your hip and crosses the front of your thigh, and continues down until it inserts near the inner part of your knee, and that’s sartorius for you. This muscle is also known as the tailor’s muscle and for an interesting reason. Because of its structure and position, the muscle helps to flex and rotate your hip and flex your knee. If you were to sit with one leg crossed over the other, you have the sartorius muscle would be working. As this position (one leg over another) was often adopted by early day tailors, the sartorius also got called the tailor’s muscle. More details on this useful muscle and an interactive image for you to visualize it from all the angles from this page at VeryWellHealth.

The muscle that can pull with the greatest force is the soleus. It is found below the gastrocnemius (calf muscle). The soleus is very important for walking, running, and dancing. It is considered a very powerful muscle along with calf muscles because it pulls against the force of gravity to keep the body upright.

The upper leg and knee

Extension of the knee is accomplished by a group of muscles collectively referred to as the quadriceps femoris, which increases the angle of the knee, bringing the lower leg into a straight position. Knee extension is used in the forward, swing phase of the gait and is integral in movements such as kicking. The quadriceps femoris group includes the vastus medius, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris. A minor contribution to knee extension is provided by the sartorius. Knee flexion refers to bending of the knee from the straight position. The muscles that perform that action oppose those of knee extension and are generally referred to as the hamstring muscles. The hamstring muscles are situated in the back of the thigh and include the biceps femoris, the semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. Small contributions to knee flexion are made by the gastrocnemius muscle in the back of the calf and by several small muscles that cross the knee joint posteriorly.

The lower leg and foot

The muscles of the lower leg and foot are complex and work in many planes. Their actions depend on whether the person is bearing weight, as well as on the position of the foot. The following paragraphs provide a brief overview of the actions of the muscles of the lower leg and foot.

Dorsiflexion refers to ankle flexion in the direction of the dorsum, or anterior surface of the foot (the surface of the foot viewed from above). Dorsiflexion is accomplished by several muscles, including the tibialis anterior, which in addition to dorsiflexion also inverts the foot (tilts the foot toward the midline), stabilizes the foot when striking the ground, and locks the ankle when kicking. The extensor digitorum longus (EDL) also acts in dorsiflexion and functions to extend the last four toes. In addition to the EDL, some individuals also have a muscle called the peroneus tertius (fibularis tertius), which participates to a limited extent in dorsiflexion and eversion of the foot (tilting of the foot away from the midline). The extensor hallucis longus primarily acts in big toe (hallux) dorsiflexion, but it also acts to dorsiflex, as well as weakly invert, the ankle.

 Plantarflexion refers to flexion of the ankle in the direction of the sole of the foot. That is most easily demonstrated by having a person stand on his or her toes. The majority of ankle plantarflexion is performed by the large calf musculature, including the gastrocnemius and the soleus, which lies just behind the gastrocnemius. It is generally accepted that those are two distinct muscles; however, there is some debate as to whether the gastrocnemius and the soleus are two parts of the same muscle.

Other muscles of the lower leg and foot include the plantaris, which runs obliquely between the gastrocnemius and the soleus; the flexor hallucis longus, which contributes to ankle flexion but is involved primarily in big toe flexion; the flexor digitorum longus, which also flexes the second to fifth toes; the peroneus longus, which flexes the ankle and everts the foot; and the peroneus brevis, which is involved in plantarflexion and eversion of the foot. Intrinsic muscles of the foot arise in the foot and do not cross the ankle joint. Hence, their action is confined to the foot.

The intrinsic muscles of the foot include the abductor hallucis, which abducts the big toe; the flexor digitorum brevis, which flexes the second to fifth toes; the abductor digiti minimi, which abducts and flexes the fifth toe; the quadratus plantae, which assists in toe flexion; the lumbricals, which flex the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joints and extend the distal IP and proximal IP joints of the toes; the flexor hallucis brevis, which flexes the big toe; and the adductor hallucis, which flexes and contracts the big toe. The adductor hallucis has two heads, the oblique head and the transverse head, which share an insertion on the lateral (outer) side of the base of the proximal phalanx of the big toe. The oblique head arises from the base of the second to fourth metatarsal bones, and the transverse head arises from the ligaments of the MTP joints of the third to fifth toes. The flexor digiti minimi brevis extends and adducts the fifth toe. The dorsal interossei abduct the toes, and the plantar interossei adduct the toes.Source: https://www.britannica.com/science/human-muscle-system/Evolutionary-context

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