Rectus femoris (RF) is one of the four quadriceps muscles located at the front of the thigh. The other three
quadriceps muscles (vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, and vastus intermedius) only cross at the knee, but rectus femoris crosses the hip joint as well. It originates at the anterior inferior iliac spine (AIIS) at the front of the pelvis, and inserts at the patellar tendon and tibial plateau (small notch on shin bone below your knee cap). Because this muscle crosses two joints and has two actions (to flex or bend the hip and extend or straighten the knee) it is more prone to trigger points and tightness.
If RF has trigger points, you will notice tightness in your anterior thigh, and possibly some pain in your knee, when putting it in a stretched position by extending your hip behind you and bending your knee. Rectus femoris has two areas where trigger points are common. Contract the muscle by flexing the hip with the knee straight (straight leg raise), then search just more than half way down the thigh. You are likely to find a tender trigger point there. The primary trigger point to look for in RF is near the top of the muscle at front of the thigh, below your hip.
Sports that involve kicking, and also those that use a lot of hip flexion such as cycling and rowing, can cause trigger points to develop in this muscle. I have taken Tae Kwon Do for the past six years, and the two most common kicks we use involve hip flexion and knee extension. So it is no surprise that my rectus femoris needs a little TLC!
Those who spend many hours sitting in a chair can also have issues with short and tight RF that harbors trigger points. If you have a desk job, then perform an athletic activity occasionally, RF can probably use a tune up to help you avoid pain and trigger points in it. Interestingly, trigger points in the psoas (deep hip flexor muscle and core stabilizer) can contribute to them in rectus femoris as well, so it is wise to treat both of these muscles together.
If you have trigger points in rectus femoris, you are likely to feel a deep ache in your knee since that is where they refer pain. So if knee pain has been nagging you, I suggest you learn how to treat this muscle! A tight RF can cause your pelvis to tilt anteriorly (giving you the look of a swayed back) due to it’s attachment at the front of the pelvis, especially if you have strong quadriceps and flexible hamstrings (picture the typical posture of a gymnast). Problems with RF can also cause buckling of your hip or knee, and can flare up knee pain when you walk down stairs or in high heels.
Thankfully there are some simple ways to remedy this muscle with self-massage techniques and exercises. Look out for part two of this blog to learn some!