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!
Yes! I find this article on the RF to be so necessary for any and everyone. I especially like how the author gives examples on the RF shortening throughout training like biking, hiking and martial arts for those who experience pain through physical activity but as well as explaining more everyday activities such as sitting at a desk or driving which also tighten the RF.
Very interesting. Lots of information that will help me with my knee problem when hiking. So nice to finally understand what is happening in my body and have solutions I can apply by myself, to take care of me.
Oh My Wow! This is ME! Tight, strong quads and stretchy hamstrings. I played soccer most of my life and my knees are really crackling nowadays. I feel so much better once I roll my quads. You mentioned the Psoas also and that flares up for me time to time, so I love the connections you’ve made. I have another piece to my body puzzle.
Tight quads is a repeated complaint be many of my students as many are avid cyclists. I also found the part about knee pain and buckling of the knee in relation to a tight RF interesting.
Wow thanks for the insight!
I had experienced really bad re-occuring knee pain years ago and sounds like Rec fem could totally have been one of the culprits!
I will read all the articles in this “Knee category” because my son, who was a soccer player in high school and college is suffering now with the knee problem and already had 2 surgeries, at this moment we are waiting for the 3th one… He and I collect all possible information on the subject what to do and how to help the knee to recover properly and function well to avoid future complications. In the article I read: “If RF has trigger points, you will notice tightness in your anterior thigh, and possibly some pain in your knee, when… Read more »
Learning how muscles/tendons/joints are attached really brings home the point about how having knee pain might actually originate from somewhere else in the leg. Great to learn the trigger points and options about rolling out other muscles using the Tune Up Balls can help find relief.
This was very informative and helpful! I have had knee pain on and off for years; I will definitely be looking for these trigger points and following your next blog post.
Great information about the rectus femoris. Knowing the origin and attachment points gives a clear picture of how this muscle can attribute to both knee and back pain.
It’s great to have the understanding of what can be contributing to knee pain and the link to the psoas, brilliant! Makes sense as everything is connected through our fascia trains. Thanks for the simple explanation and reasons why we gotta give the RF some love!
Thanks so much for your lovely article,my body is a mes at the moment lots of issues in my tissues as Jill miller would say.
Having to comment on 3 blogs a day is turning out to be a great learning experience about a great deal of subjects
I’ve been researching the causes of knee pain more of late as I’ve developed some pain in my left knee. This is a great post illustrating the RF’s as a possible cause and blind spot to treat knee issues.
I have had knee issues my whole life and am just finding out that treating the muscles that attach to the knee and treating the feet, with roller ball self massage and strengthening, can affect the knee joint in wonderful ways. Thanks for a nice intro to the RF.
Each time I read a post I’m blown away by the detail of anatomy understanding. While this world has just opened up for me, I look forward to know exactly what you’re talking about without having my anatomy book as a reference guide. Thank you!
Great idea to tend to the rectus femoris and other quad muscles when feeling discomfort in the knee. Thank you!
Interesting read, I tend to automatically blame the hip musculature for many complaints of knee pain. It is good to have a fresh perspective and new ideas for treatment. Thanks.
Thank you for the pointer on treating the psoas and RF togther.
Interesting article. Especially for a world living in the sagital plane. Some lateral movement might help as well.
This has been so helpful, I have been to multiple PT’s and massage therapists, I’m gonna get my Alphas out and take matters into my own hands (or balls:) My quads are super tight from lots of loaded squats, I’ve been correcting my sway back but I see now it’s time to release the rectus femoris
Wow– thank you for all the context on what the manifestation of a tight rectus femoris can look like! I have experienced the deep knee pain you refer to as well as petelar tracking issues and I can attribute it to the activities I participate in that all serve to shorten this muscle (bike commuting, sitting at a desk, playing soccer, hiking- especially downhill). I look forward to working through these trigger points and sharing this info in my biking and soccer communities.
Breat to read your blog, Christina!
I’ve had lower back pain and a job which demands a lot of sitting. Since I started rolling the RF and the IT band it felt like my psoas was able to relax more and my lower back pain faded away!
Gee i really have too look deeper into this!!! Thx!
As a curling player, I see so many players suffering from knee injuries. I now having a better understanding of why it can come from. Cant’t wait to the next season to see my improvement.
Rectus femoris is a fun muscle! I like learning more about muscles that have actions spanning multiple joints. This is one of those tricky ones that can cause many different issues for people. You brought up trigger points, which are typically pretty common in multi-joint muscles. It’s also very important to consider how a muscles distal vs proximal fibers are functioning relative to each other. It’s not uncommon for issues proximally to create symptoms distally.
Too funny, the other day I was having knee pain. A lot of this has been due to sitting during training. I actually rolled out my Rectus Femoris the next morning. the knee pain has subsided. I generally don’t spend a lot of time sitting so this may have been the culprit. I also found a trigger point up higher just like you said probably due to cycling. Thanks for the information so I can weave this into a class with the students who are feel a whole lot in their Rectus Femoris.
The picture was really helpful and your description was thorough. I really appreciated the detail and fairly easily found the trigger point 1/2 way down my thigh. I believe I have been avoiding rolling on my quads because it is so painful. Time to start that work!!
What a great anatomical highlight on a key muscle Christina! Identifying and outlying the two different joints it affects is a big eye opener for most people. As a physiotherapist, most individuals I treat haven’t learned why we are assessing the joints above and below the area of injury (or the system at a whole) until I’ve explained some of the key concepts you’ve outline in this article. Can’t wait to dive into this muscle a little bit more!
Thank you for the great info! You’ve definitely given me a lot to think about!
I’ve had intermittent knee pain for years. I will definitely be rolling out my RFs as you’ve suggested. Thanks!
Very informative and helpful! Thank you!
Sounds like you’re describing me!!
I couldn’t agree more – our modern society is notorious for tight rectus femoris! Rectus femoris is often the first site I release when addressing back and/or knee pain. After rolling the rectus femoris with an alpha ball, a great stretch is “couch stretch,” which allows for a deep stretch of the hip, quad and psoas, all at once. If you don’t have a couch handy, a wall will do just fine!
Very informative! This is very relevant to almost all of my clients (most of them who have desk jobs). Alleviating the tightness in the rectus femoris has had a great impact on relieving knee pain.
Wow, I absolutely loved this article.
I can also relate to it as I have been having theses exact issues with my right knee. My RF has trigger points and I do have a lot of tightness in my anterior thigh. You’re tips are so helpful and learned a lot more in detail than my physios ever explain it to me!
Thank you so much!!
Love the description of where the trigger point spots are. I find that this is always an intense place for people to roll, but they immediately feel the results in their low backs and knees.
My tight quads are only too familiar with the knee trouble you mention. Thank you so much for this detailed and insightful article, especially the recommendation to also treat the psoas when working on the RF. Much appreciated.
My daughter has had knee pain. Definitely ball rolling in the quad has helped but the real bad boy was her IT band. For her nothing helped her knee pain like rolling out those bands along with the quads as you suggest. She didn’t like it too much cause it was not the most comfy thing but she liked the results.
Since switching from straphanger to bike commuter, my knees have been paining in exactly the spots and sensations you describe. Thank you for helping me connect the dots between my symptoms and a possible solution, Christina!
I am wondering in what area of the knee a tight RF will show up in; will it be primarily in the front of the knee?
As a bicycle commuter having the hips and knees in flexion is a daily posture. Using this sequence for the RF is great. Strengthening my hamstrings and glutes is also equally important.
Very interesting! I do sit a lot in front of a computer at work. Recently, I experience pain in my left knee trying to do Dhanurasana/bow pose. I will explore Part II!
This is an excellent article that will benefit many people I know:
– Sitting at a desk all day;
– Experiencing knee pain;
– Passionate bikers;
Or the three of them! I will definitely look at part II!
thank you for this! I have a client currently, who complains of knee pain and sits for hours at a desk job, in exam I noticed she has Lordosis, and tight psoas. Great info. I appreciate the insights 🙂
Merci, j’ai une douleur au genou lorsque je passe beaucoup de temps assis à faire du travail de bureau. Maintenant je prendrais mes balles YTU pour relâcher les tensions dans les grands droits fémorals.
Merci pour cet article.
Ah that´s funny, because yesterday I worked on my psoas, because I learned in Level 1 why and how to do it. So, and in the morning I felt had knee pain in the right knee, where I have my tight psoas. Yesterday I worked seven hours on my YTU homework and not necessary to say, that I had some problems. So, I did some ballwork, but I didn´t thought on the RF. So, waiting for the exercises next week! Thank you!