The Rectus Femoris Tendon and Piriformis Syndrome


rectus femoris tendonStress in the rectus femoris tendon creates an environment that increases the likelihood of getting piriformis syndrome, and it is one stressed out tendon.The rectus femoris tendon attaches in two places on the pelvis— the acetabulum, the cup that the femur (thigh) bone sits into, and the front border of the hip bone. Of the four quadriceps muscles it is the only one to attach to the pelvis which is what makes it a flexor of the hip as well as an extensor of the knee.

The rectus femoris tendon and muscle suffer terribly when it comes to poor posture. I wrote earlier in the week about ligaments that hold us up when we don’t stand well and from a muscular point of view the rectus femoris tendon bears the full brunt of the tucked pelvis poor alignment.

The video above is an exercise that I learned from one of my all-time favorite teachers Jim Bernaert. We used to do this are his classes at Yoga Mandali in NYC, and I would look around in wonder at the moans and groans emanating from the students. My open hips could care less and I would lay flat on my back whistling Dixie.

Over the years I came to see this pose as a piriformis muscle release that can provide great relief for piriformis syndrome and related issues. To say that something is a piriformis release is simply to put the piriformis in a position to shut off and relax for a little while. As I wrote yesterday, with poor posture and a tucked pelvis the piriformis lives in a state of constant contraction.

What is really happening here in that the rectus femoris tendon is getting worked in a way that it rarely does. Standing with a tucked pelvis forces the thigh forward which stresses the iliofemoral ligament as I wrote the other day, but it always loads a ton of tension into the rectus femoris tendon essentially pushing it forward out of its natural alignment any time you are standing up. In a way this tendon, which isn’t meant to stretch, is holding us up in the same way as the iliofemoral ligament. As a result the poorly aligned and extremely tight rectus femoris tendon and muscle keep the piriformis muscle in its constantly contracted state.

If you are someone who feels like a steel cable becomes taught in the upper thigh when you do core work, you are feel the rectus femoris tendon firing due to confusion and dysfunction. This type of action must be avoided and can be very difficult to change. Trying the exercise in the video and then doing poses that usually make the rectus femoris tendon pop is a great way to explore the effectiveness of the exercise.

Another neat benefit of this shape, and the way I use it in yoga classes, is using it to go deeper into ankle to knee, an absolutely bedeviling pose that deserves a post of its own.

Untuck the pelvis and you will take a lot of strain off of the rectus femoris tendon which is a key muscle when it comes to walking standing and doing anything that involves flexing the hip. Relieving this strain will have a secondary affect allowing the piriformis more space to live in its natural habitat.  Having taught this pose in so many yoga classes and to so many clients over the years, I have seen its effects on the rectus femoris tendon and they are nothing short of amazing.

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6 Comments
  1. Thank you for this very informative post. Love the pose, will add it to my repertoire immediately. In Pilates we come across tight hip flexors (and not the iliopsoas) all the time, so this should help me students, thank you again for all the fabulous posts. Btw: I love that they are fairly short, too. Bite-sized high quality info. 🙂

    • Tight hips flexors are most often from thigh bones sinking forward of the pelvis. It is not easy to get people to stop doing thing but it is essential. Thanks for your last comment. I work hard to keep them short and sweet. It isn’t always easy as I would like to blather on.

  2. I cannot put my foot on top of the knee and sit up, there is way to much torque in my hip. Is there an alternate placement, like feet together on the floor or even crossed at the ankle that I could use? I have done yoga for 13 years and have never been able to get my hips to loosen. After finding you and Katy Bowman I have changed my habit of butt tucking which I’m sure is the reason my hips are so tight. After almost a year of untucking I am still unable to externally rotate while seated.

    I faithfully look at your posts everyday and have learned so much, thank you.

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