Your legs include many strong muscles. They allow you to do big and small movements. They also support your weight and stabilize your body so you can stand up straight. The muscles in your upper leg include your quadriceps and hamstrings. Your calf muscles work with other muscles of the lower leg to help you move your feet.
You have many different muscles in your upper and lower leg. Together, these muscles help you walk, run, jump, stand on your toes and flex your feet (lift your toes up toward your knee). Your leg muscles work with your bones, tendons and ligaments to stabilize your body, support your weight and help you move.
Muscle strains (tearing or stretching a muscle too far) in the legs are common injuries. They often result from strenuous exercise or overuse. To keep your leg muscles strong, you should warm up before physical activity. By maintaining a healthy weight and focusing on staying healthy overall, you can keep your leg muscles working properly.
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Your leg muscles help you move, carry the weight of your body and support you when you stand. You have several muscles in your upper and lower legs. They work together to enable you to walk, run, jump and flex and point your feet.
Your lower leg muscles have many important jobs. They include:
Anterior muscles: These muscles help you lift and lower your foot and extend your toes. They are in the front (anterior) part of the lower leg.
Lateral muscles: Running along the outside of your lower leg, these muscles stabilize your foot when you’re walking or running. They also allow you to move your foot from side to side.
Posterior muscles: These muscles are in the back of your lower leg. Some are superficial (close to the surface of your skin) and some sit deeper inside your leg. They help you:
The muscles of the upper leg are very strong. They support your weight and help you move your hips and legs. Their jobs include:
Anterior muscles: These muscles stabilize your body and help with balance. They also allow you to:
Medial muscles: These muscles help with hip adduction (moving your leg toward the center of your body). They also allow you to flex, extend and rotate your thigh.
Posterior muscles: Providers also call these the hamstring muscles. They help you move your leg from front to back and rotate it at the hip socket.
Your lower leg muscle anatomy includes:
Anterior muscles: You have four muscles in the anterior (front) part of the lower leg. They extend from your knee down to your foot. They are:
Lateral muscles: The fibularis longus and fibularis brevis run along the outside (lateral part) of your lower leg. They start just below your knee and go down to your ankle.
Posterior: The muscles in the posterior (back) of your lower leg are:
The muscles in your upper leg (your thigh muscles) run from your hips to your knee. Your upper leg muscle anatomy includes:
Anterior: You have three main muscles in your upper leg. You also have another muscle, the iliopsoas, that starts in your lower spine and attaches to your femur (thighbone). The main upper leg muscles are:
Medial: Providers also call the medial part of the thigh, the hip adductors. You have five medial thigh muscles (on the inner part of your thigh). They are:
Posterior: The most common name for these muscles is the hamstrings. They start under your buttocks, run down the back of your leg and extend to the inside and outside of your knee. These muscles include:
Conditions that affect the leg muscles include:
Problems in the leg muscles can cause:
Providers can usually diagnose muscle strains during a physical examination. Your provider will look for swelling and tenderness. In order to test function, they may ask you to move your foot or leg in certain positions during the exam.
To check for damage to the muscle, tendons or other soft tissues, your provider may order an imaging study, such as ultrasound or MRI. These imaging studies help your provider make an accurate diagnosis.
Depending on the location and severity of the injury, your provider may recommend:
To avoid problems with your leg muscles, you should:
If you have severe or sudden calf pain that doesn’t improve after a day or two of rest, call your provider. Calf pain and other symptoms of a muscle strain may actually be signs of a serious medical condition, such as a blood clot, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), nerve damage or Achilles tendonitis.
Get help right away if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The muscles in your upper and lower legs work together to help you move, support your body’s weight and allow you to have good posture. They enable you to do big movements, like running and jumping. They also help you with small movements, like wiggling your toes. Leg muscle strains are common, especially in the hamstrings, quads and groin. To keep your leg muscles working as they should, avoid carrying excess weight. Warm up before exercise, stop if you feel pain and see your provider if you have leg muscle problems that don’t improve in a few days.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/29/2021.
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