Today we discuss an unsung hero of hip and knee stability: the adductors. Often overshadowed by the glutes, the adductors play an important role in keeping your hips, knees, and feet healthy.
First, let’s go over the anatomy and function of the adductors. Commonly referred to as the “inner thigh muscles”, the adductors originate on pubic bone of the pelvis and attach on various locations along the femur. Adductor brevis and Pectineus are sometimes referred to as the proximal adductors, as they attach higher up on the femur. Adductor longus, Gracilis, and Adductor Magnus attach further down. Of note, the adductor Magnus has both an adductor and hamstring portion, meaning that different fibers of the muscle perform different functions.
The main action of the adductors as a muscle group is to bring the leg closer to midline. As aforementioned, the adductor magnus also performs knee flexion, similarly to the hamstring muscle group. Also of note is that the pectineus plays a slight role in hip flexion, and therefore could be grouped in with the “Hip flexors”. Specifically in running and walking gait, the adductors help to control leg rotation and maintain femoral position in the acetabulum.
The most important takeaway here for runners is that if the adductors are tight and weak, it will be more difficult to utilize and strengthen the glutes. As a simple example, think about the “Jane Fonda” exercise where the exerciser is lying on his or her side and lifting the leg into the air. This is exercise is designed to strengthen the gluteus medius, which is called upon often in running gait to keep the pelvis level and prevent the dreaded “Hip drop” (See Ryan’s previous post about hip drop here). If the adductors are tight, they will pull the leg in the opposite direction, affecting the quality and effectiveness of the exercise. A similar phenomenon occurs in a standing, or running position, where tight adductors may pull the leg inward and keep the glutes from doing their job of pelvic stability and hip extension.
I know what you’re thinking, what does this have to do with my foot? (What? You weren’t thinking that?)
The adductors are part of the “medial line” of fascia in the body. Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and joints, and affects tension and function through different groups of connected muscles. Also included in the medial line is the posterior tibialis and the deeper leg muscles that control the toes. Thus, strength of the medial line is important for the control of pronation and foot position as well.
Now that I’ve got you all excited about this muscle group, how do we strengthen it? Below are a few examples of exercises I frequently give patients that target the adductors specifically. In addition to these, keep in mind that it is also important to do standing, runner-functional exercises in conjunction with these in order translate that strength into running gait.
These exercises are my go-to’s for runners with hip pain, possible labral tears or hip impingement, or inner ankle pain. However, I hope I’ve convinced you that these are important to add in to your strength routine! The adductors may be the Robin to the Glute’s Batman, the second fiddle, or the Scottie Pippen to Michael Jordan, but they are important, too!
Keep going, you got this!
Dr Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT