A few years back I was in India for an entire month to do my 200 hour teacher training. I meditated daily without any extra support from props or walls (I was in a palapa), and I had lectures all afternoon, again without props or walls. Needless to say, I started to hurt everywhere, but the majority of pain was felt on the medial side of my knee. At the time I had no idea why. All I knew that the pain “magically” disappeared when I left India. After some self study and research I came to the conclusion that I had an angry sartorius, causing knee pain. Here’s why:
The sartorius come from the Latin word sartor which means tailor and is often referred to as the tailor’s muscle. I have always known I had tight hips and that sitting cross legged was never comfortable, but what the heck did that have to do with my knee? The sartorius is the longest muscle in the body, starting at the anterior superior iliac spine (aka your hip bone), then obliquely crossing the thigh and ending at the inside or medial knee where it joins the gracilis and semitendinosus muscles to form the pes anserinus attachment on the tibia (lower leg bone). This muscle gets credit for extending the femur, but in reality it is an amazing flexor! It not only flexes and abducts the hip but also externally rotates the hip all while internally rotating a flexed knee. With the sartorius muscle’s many functions, this long superficial muscle is busy (and I would argue it’s only superficial anatomically, as it is deep and complex in movement!)
In everyday life, you activate this muscle by crossing your ankle over your thigh while sitting or looking at the bottom of your shoe to see if you stepped in gum. Kicking
a soccer ball highlights this muscle in sports as does the breast stroke kick. In yoga, vrksasana or tree pose best exposes all the actions of the sartorius.
Voila! In India, I was forcing external rotation of my hip far beyond my range of motion and stressing the sartorius. If I simply elevated my hips on a bolster or cushion, the external rotation of the hips would have been taken down a few notches and my hips, knees and definitely my attitude would have been a whole lot happier!
Stay tuned for my next post where I give you a Yoga Tune Up® pose where the sartorius is both stretched and strengthened for overall knee and hip balance.
Watch more free Yoga Tune Up® Quickfix Videos Here.
Read more about the popliteus.
A wise piece of advise, thanks for reminding us that our bodies are our teachers.
The sartorius is such a cool muscle! It seemingly does two opposing actions all in one muscle– internally rotation the knee while externally rotating the hip. It seems so simple now that I have read this article, but a tight sartorius on my left side can explain why my tree pose is less laterally rotated on that side, sitting cross-legged hurts my knee on that side (even when propped with a block– it must be really tight!) and I favor my right leg playing soccer! I will definitely be tuning into this muscle as a blind spot.
This was surprisingly revealing! I cross my legs all the time and have this out of balance relationship with my sartorius. With me over trying to work external rotation while my structure and habitual muscle function has my knee rotate in and not like trying to be pull around. In happy baby I mostly feel ache in my entire in hip region. So I’m trying to work if it is psoas, iliacus, sartorius, or more. This is why I’m in the certification now, to figure out how these guys move.
I have had the same thing happen to me. I too could feel something in my inner knee. I now sit up on a block as an easy and quick way to elevate my hips. Many students have trouble in a seated position like sukasana. Thanks for the background.
Light bulb! Hearing your story has helped me give context as to why we have students sit on a blanket or a bolster while sitting in meditation. This makes so much more sense and has helped me help a few of my students who continually force external rotation of their hip (like you – I think it’s far beyond their range of motion and also stressing their Sartorius muscle).
“If I simply elevated my hips on a bolster or cushion, the external rotation of the hips would have been taken down a few notches and my hips, knees and definitely my attitude would have been a whole lot happier!”
It’s nice to see the sartorius getting the spotlight! I feel like this muscle is SO overlooked, despite its importance. Great insight, Macala and way to step back and figure out what was causing your pain. This is a great example of being a student of your body.
P.S. See you in yoga soon and thanks for the encouragement to do Jill’s level 1 training. It’s challenging, incredible and taking me out of my comfort zone too!
Great detective work! Sometimes the best way to find the answer is to reverse engineer your way to the answer.
Great article Macala
,I also have irritated the Sartorius many ,many time indeed raising the hips on a block or bolster has been extremely helpful in transitioning from chair to the floor.Thank you
This is the muscle of the day for me. 😀 Since I regularly practice ashtanga I am aware of how tight my sartorius is. It prevents me from doing half or full lotus. Since it’s attached to the knee it’s super important to listen to the body so you don’t injure your ligament or knee joint.
Hi Macala, I have not given much thought to the Sartorius. I often have pain in the medial part of my knee and it comes and goes so I figured It was just a thing that wasn’t too serious. But now that I might have some more information on the pain I’m definitely going to explore this area! I appreciate the knowledge!
Macala, What a timely article to find, I was just talking to a friend of mine who is dealing with some anterior knee pain…. his pt said to start looking at his tight hips for a fix. I also spend a lot of time driving and am asked to run for work every spring….. This seams like a great muscle to keep and eye on if you have and active and value knee health.
Thanks for explaining why a little lift in a cross-legged position can help with alignment. Really insightful!
As I said in my prefious comment, the flexion by the Gracilis in this series is easily identifies by “activating the thighs”/ (I.E. Flexion).
Hi Macala and thanks for this great post on the Sartorius! I love how you relate your experience of meditating and sitting in lectures for long periods of time to a Sartorious that starts talking to you from the medial part of your knee. I just came off of the YTU Anatomy training and worked hard to make sure my Sartorius was well managed. I also suffered from some angry inner knee pain with a tweaked Sartorius after the YTUTT, as was mentioned above by Jeannette. I took lots of opportunities to move around during the training and also propped the outside of my knees on blocks to give the Sartorius some help and relief while sitting on the floor. I hope you keep adding posts to the blog as I enjoy your inside scoop on the issues in your tissues 😉
I was just in YTUTT today, mobilizing my tight and tender Sartorious with a Tune Up ball! So I’m so glad to have come across this post, and your Half Happy Baby Minvini stretch for it! This started me researching. I found that a tight Sartorious is implicated in anterior and lateral thigh numbness and pain from compressing on the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve where it exits the pelvis near the ASIS. I’ve had that symptom off and on for a few years with little help from chiropractic or bodywork. You may have pointed the path to an answer. Thanks!!
Macala, so glad to have read your post. I had a very similar experience, also in India, sitting on hard floors with no support underneath. In my case, Sartorius had the unhappy company of a posterially tilted pelvis, and continued floor sitting without proper lift eventually caused my back to completely give out (it’s been fine for years now). I hope to gain more agility in the variation you have shown in the “Sassy” post – thank you!
This is my muscle of the day. Just finished Day 3 of YTUTT and have had to do my homework on this hip flexor/abductor because I don’t know it well. I know your “pain” for having irritated this; I too elevate rather than sit crossed legged on the ground. I also had some pain in my knee in another training where I was taken repeatedly into Sukhasana, Easy Pose wasn’t so easy for me after years in chairs. I think now that Sartorius was the culprit. I’ll look for your next post.