Author: Kevin B. Rosenbloom, C.Ped, Sports Biomechanist
Because the hip joint can move on a variety of planes, this joint is so incredibly important for functional ambulation. This summary will briefly discuss hip abduction, explore the muscle bodies that contribute to this movement and give a sliver of a sample into the intriguing research about the muscles.
Hip abduction is the lateral, superior raise of the thigh and leg at the hip joint, away from the body’s sagittal plane. The range of motion has been estimated at 40-45° (Washington State DSHS 2014, Quinn 2019), with more flexible individuals reaching up to 55° (Roaas & Andersson 1982). The sartorius, gluteal group (maximus, medius, minimus), piriformis, superior gemellus, obturator internus and tensor fascia lata are the most significant contributors to hip abduction (Visible Body 2019). It is important to note that other sources have suggested some contribution by the tensor fascia lata, but these sources do not provide adequate research examples to include in this summary.
The gluteus maximus is a thick and broad, quadrilaterally-shaped muscle that occupies the majority of the superficial, posterior iliac wing of the pelvis. The g. maximus muscles borders’ originate at the posterior gluteal iliac line to the lower sacrum, the base of the spine and the side of the coccyx. The upper portion of the muscle, being the larger of the two, passes across the femoral greater trochanter and inserts into the iliotibial band of the tensor fascia lata. The lower portion of the muscle inserts into the gluteal tuberosity, between the adductor magnus and vastus lateralis muscles. The gluteus maximus is considered to be one of the strongest muscles in the body (Weil 2017, Barclay 2018).
Another thick muscle, the gluteus medius, originates between the iliac crest, the posterior gluteal iliac line above and the anterior gluteal iliac line below. Approximately 30% of its posterior half is enclosed by the gluteus maximus. The g. medius inserts into a strong and flat tendon attached at the lateral surface of the greater femoral trochanter. The weakening of the gluteus medius (and/or g. minimus) can have a patient display a Trendelenburg gait. This could be a sign of severe hip dysfunction like congenital hip dislocation or arthritis (Hardcastle & Nade 1985, Macinicol & Makris 1991).
Originating from the posterior gluteal iliac line above and the anterior gluteal iliac line below (along the greater sciatic notch), the gluteus minimus is covered almost entirely by the g. medius. Its insertion is the anterior surface of the greater femoral trochanter. Variations of the muscle show it may be divided into two parts or it may have fibers attaching to the piriformis, the superior gemellus or the outer vastus lateralis (Gray 1918).
Deep Posterior Compartment
The obturator internus’ origins surround the posterior obturator foramen in the inner pelvis. From the foramen, the muscle’s fibers concentrate into a bottle-neck at the lesser sciatic foramen and continue posteriorly along the inner pelvic ischium before it wraps around to the outer posterior ischium, between the ischial spine and tuberosity. It then proceeds to traverse along the outer ischium, bordering with the fibers from both gemelli, until it inserts onto the medial great femoral trochanter, just superior to the trochanteric fossa. A few decades ago, an abscess in the obturator internus was not a thoroughly examined causation to hip pain. Since then, more research on the topic has been processed and evaluated with case studies reporting that antibiotics indeed help combat the ailment (Birkbeck & Watson 1995, Viani et al. 1998, Papadopoulos et al. 2000, Gajraj 2005).
Tensor Fascia Lata
The tensor fascia lata arises from the outer surfaces of the anterior superior iliac spine, just between the g. medius and the sartorius muscles. Its insertion attaches to the two bands of the iiotibial tract approximately at the greater femoral trochanter in the upper thigh, with the iliotibial tract inserting onto the lateral tibial condyle. Preliminary research has shown that patients with hip pathology, did not show signs of asymmetry in the structure or functional output of the tensor fascia lata when compared to healthy individuals (Grimaldi et al. 2009). The tensor fascia lata muscle is used often for reconstruction surgery (Koshima et al. 2001).
Muscle Overview – Hip Abductors
Figure 1. Sketch of hip abductors (right), posterior view.
Gluteus maximus 
Gluteus medius 
Gluteus minimus 
Superior gemellus* 
Inferior gemellus* 
Obturator internus* 
Tensor Fascia Lata 
*Abductor during hip flexion
References & Works Cited
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Gajraj, N. M. 2005. “Botulinum Toxin a Injection of the Obturator Internus Muscle for Chronic Perineal Pain,” Journal of Pain 6; 5: 333-337. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpain.2005.01.353.
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Viani, R. M., Bromberg, K., Bradley, J. S. 1998. “Obturator Internus Muscle Abscess in Children: Report of Seven Cases and Review,” Clinical Infectious Diseases 28: 117-122.
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Kevin B. Rosenbloom, C.Ped, Sports Biomechanist
Kevin B. Rosenbloom, founder and president of Kevin Orthopedic, is a renowned certified pedorthist and sports biomechanist practicing in Santa Monica, CA. With his continuing research on the historical development of foot and ankle pathologies, comparative evolution of lower extremities and the modern environmental impacts on ambulation, he provides advanced biomechanical solutions for his patients and clients.