Tight Adductors | How They Cause Back Pain + How to Fix Them

Tight adductors are no joke. They can cause back and hip pain but, luckily, they’re easy to fix. Here’s how to keep your adductors happy and healthy.

Your adductors are most commonly known as your inner thigh muscles. And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably spent a good deal of your life ignoring these secretly important muscles.

They’re not glamorous and big like the muscles on the front and back of your thigh. If you do the right exercises, you can develop a sweet little hollow space so that when you stand with your legs together, a little magical light shines through from the other side.

However, if you ignore these muscles, you’re in for a world of pain. Tight adductors will make your back, your hips, and even your knees hurt. They’ll make you crazy-sore after you try something new like Zumba or basketball with your adult rec team.

Maybe you already knew all of that.

But, did you know your adductors have a secret power?

For a majority of people, your adductors are directly tied to your core strength. This means if you have weak or tight adductors, your other core muscles like your abdominals are less likely to be able to function correctly.

Whoa! This means that if you’re struggling with back pain or a weak core, your tight adductors might be to blame.

And, if you’re on the Internet searching for a way to relieve back pain, you’ve probably come across tons of articles telling you to strengthen your core muscles. What most articles don’t tell you, though, is that your core isn’t just abdominal and back muscles. It includes adductors, too!

Now that you know a little bit more about why your adductors are so important, keep reading to find out where they are, what they do, and how to fix your tight adductors.

Psst! If you’re here today because you’re trying to get rid of your adductor-related back or hip pain, you need this free guide! Just click here to download your copy of The Fast + Easy Way to Relieve Hip + Back Pain.

Which Muscles Are in the Adductor Group?

Your inner thigh is a pretty large space. It’s about one-fourth of your upper leg, so you might imagine there are a bunch of muscles in there.

drawing of the adductor muscles

In fact, there are five muscles that count as part of the adductor group. Three of them even have “adductor” as part of their name. From smallest to largest, your “adductor” muscles are adductor brevis, adductor longus, and adductor magnus.

Your two other adducting muscles are the pectineus and gracilis.

Where Are the Adductor Muscles?

Your adductor muscles are your inner thigh muscles. They’re responsible for moving your upper leg toward the midline of your body.

Below you’ll learn where each muscle begins and ends. This can help you figure out how to troubleshoot any muscle weakness or pain.

The Three Adductors Origin and Insertion

Adductor brevis, adductor longus, and adductor magnus originate on a part of the anterior part of the pubic bone, called the samus.

See how the green muscle connects to that center part of the pubic bone? That’s the start of the adductor longus in the picture, but that’s also where the other two adductor muscles begin.

drawing of the adductor longus muscle
Thanks to Kenhub.com for the use of their adductor longus image.

The adductor magnus also starts on the ischial tuberosity. The ischial tuberosity is the IT part of the SITs bones, which are the bones you feel pressing into the floor whenever you sit criss-cross-applesauce.

So, the three adductor muscles originate along the bottom edge of the front of your pelvis. Because this is all so near the pubis, you might think of the origin as in your crotch or groin area.

The adductors insert medially the whole length of the femur, from hip to knee. This means these muscles insert right down the middle of your thigh bone.

Remember: It’s not always important to know all the technical information about where a muscle starts and ends. However, if you’re having pain or joint instability, it’s worth a few rereads to try to figure the exact location of the muscle out the best you can.

Pectineus Origin and Insertion

The pectineus originates on the upper anterior area of the pubic bone, known as the superior ramus. This means it is a little bit further up the edge of the pelvis, a little bit farther away from the pubis.

See how that green muscle is further away from the center of the pubic bone than the addcutor muscles in the picture above? This means pain from this muscle would be further away from the center of your crotch.

drawing of the pectineus muscle
Thanks to Kenhub.com for the use of their pectineus image.

It inserts on the upper medial shaft of the femur. This means it inserts high on your thigh bone—like so high that it would be covered by or at the bottom edge of short shorts. 

Related: If you’re on a mission to relieve your hip or low back pain from your home, I can help! I’ve created an online course called Spinal Rejuvenation where you’ll learn the very best exercises and methods to relieve your pain and keep yourself pain-free.

Gracilis Origin and Insertion

The origin of the gracilis is the lower margin of the pubic bone.

Take a look at the picture for this muscle. Can you see how the start of the muscle is just a little green sliver that’s even more toward the center of the body than the three adductor muscles?

drawing of the gracilis muscle
Thanks to Kenhub.com for the use of their gracilis image.

This means that if you feel a pain that seems to start right in the center of your crotch, this muscle might be your culprit.

The gracilis inserts on the upper part of the medial surface of the shaft of the tibia. This means that the gracilis crosses both the hip and knee joints.

Got hip and knee pain? The gracilis might be your culprit.

So, What Do the Adductors Do?

All the muscles you can feel on your inner thigh—from your hip to your knee—work to adduct your femur (thigh bone). This means these muscles bring your thighs closer to the midline of your body.

But that’s not all the adductor muscles do.

One of the main reasons the adductor muscles are important to us is because they help stabilize and balance the other muscles in the leg. This stability benefits the health of the knees and the hips.

And, although all of these muscles primarily work to bring your leg toward the midline of the body, many also have secondary functions.

For example, the three adductors also medially rotate the leg. This means they help your leg rotate inward. The pectineus, however, rotates the leg outward, causing lateral rotation.

The adductors longus and brevis and pectineus also flex the extended femur. This means they help lift your thigh bone in front of you.

Since the gracilis crosses the knee joint, it’s not a surprise that the gracilis also bends your knee and rotates your knee joint toward the midline of your body when your knee is bent.

In addition to all of this, your adductor group is part of your core muscles.

What Are Core Muscles?

Your core muscles are several muscles and muscle groups that work together to help keep your spine in neutral and allow your body to safely move.

Your core muscles are your:

But, What Happens When the Adductors Don’t Work?

When the muscles are not in proper balance, injuries may occur. This means if you’re struggling with tight adductors, you could get hurt. Even if you think your adductors are just weak, fatigued, or shortened; you could get hurt.

Some of the most common injuries are:

  • pulled groin muscle,
  • pelvic instability/popping or clicking near the pubic bone,
  • hip pain,
  • knee pain, and/or
  • low back pain.

Fixing Your Tight Adductors

Okay, if you’ve got tight adductors, there are a couple of things you need to know before you hop into these exercises.

  1. If you are currently hurting or injured, give your muscles time to heal before starting any sort of exercise.
  2. If you think you have torn any of your adductor muscles, please contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor can order all of the appropriate imaging, medication, or therapy necessary for your recovery.
  3. Tightness is the same thing as weakness. So, when you start trying to make this muscle group healthy again, you need to use a combination of exercises to both strengthen and stretch your tight adductor muscles.

Want to Know a Trick?

For many people (it’s like 75-80% of our global population), the adductors and the abdominal muscles are directly tied together. Tight adductors can lead to weak abdominals, which can lead to back pain.

If you feel like your abdominal muscles are starting to quit while you’re doing an exercise, re-engage your inner thighs, and frequently, your abdominals will hop back in, too.

That being said, let’s check out some awesome exercises for fixing tight adductors.

My Top Five Exercises to Fix Tight Adductors

Each of these exercises is a wonderful choice for making the adductor muscles healthier. However, pay attention to what you’re doing.

Remember: You need to stretch and strengthen.

1. Butterfly Pose

This yoga classic is a wonderful way to stretch your inner thighs. Even if you’ve never done a day of yoga in your life, you might remember this stretch from gym class.

picture of baddha konasana yoga butterfly pose
Butterfly pose
  1. Take a seat on the floor, and bring the soles of your feet together.
  2. Make sure you feel your SITs bones pressing into the mat. Your SITs bones and the bones you feel pressing into the floor when you sit on your bottom.
  3. Press your right and left feet evenly into each other.
  4. Slide your heels toward your crotch. As your feet move, make sure to keep contact between the right and left foot.
  5. If your knees are higher than your hips, you can sit on a bolster. You could also slide your feet further away from your crotch. Do what you can to bring your hips higher than your knees.
  6. Loop your pointer finger and thumb around each foot’s big toe.
  7. Lengthen through your spine. Lift your ribs away from your hips, and hug your belly button toward your spine.
  8. Hinge from your hips to lower your upper body forward. For the moment, keep a straight spine. Be aware that, in order for your spine to move forward, your pelvis must rotate. As the pelvis moves, so will your SITs bones.
  9. Relax your head and spine forward.
  10. Take 5-8 long breaths. Imagine you’re sending your breath into any tight muscles you feel. Especially try to take a deep breath and feel your tight adductors inflate. As you exhale, feel the adductors deflate and notice the tension melt away.
  11. Engage your abdominals and lift up. You can repeat this or just practice it once.

Make sure that you rotate your legs from your hip sockets in order to help your knees lower. If you try to slam your knees to the floor with the force of your arms, you will get a groin injury.

Related: Baddha Konasana (Butterfly): A Misunderstood Hip Opener

2. Warrior 2

This yoga pose is one of my favorites because of its multitasking. Feel your inner thighs work on your bent leg while the inner thighs of the straight leg stretch.

photo of warrior 2 yoga pose
Warrior 2
  1. Stand at the front of your mat.
  2. Send the right leg back so you’re in a lunge with parallel legs.
  3. Spin the right foot down at a ninety-degree angle so you are lined up left heel to right heel or arch.
  4. Stick your left hip out behind you, then tuck it under. This will help get your thigh bone (femur) set correctly in your hip, preventing knee injury.
  5. Hug your low belly to your spine and place your hands on your hips. Use your hands to make sure your hips are facing the same direction as your right toes. Make sure your ribs are aligned over your hips.
  6. Reach both arms straight out by your sides. You should be able to see your fingertips in your peripheral vision. Your fingertips should feel like they are actively reaching to opposite walls. This should help broaden your collarbones and keep your shoulders away from your ears.
  7. Turn your head to look out over your left fingers.
  8. Take a peek down to make sure that your left knee is tracking out over your second and third toes. In this pose, the front knee can bend to ninety degrees or more, depending on your strength and flexibility.
  9. Make sure that your right leg is straight with the outside edge of the right foot sealed to the mat.
  10. Hold for 5-8 breaths.
  11. As you hold, think about inhaling to lengthen and exhaling to soften and move deeper into the pose.
  12. Make sure that your rib cage stays stacked above your pelvis and avoid the temptation to let your upper body lean forward.
  13. After your breaths, straighten the left knee and spin the left toes to face the same direction as the right toes.
  14. Switch your legs to do the other side.

Related: Warrior 2: Watch Your Knees

3. The Pilates Roll Up

This exercise can be intense, but there are tons of ways to modify it so anyone at any level can practice this strengthening exercise. Here are the basic instructions:

the pilates roll up
Pilates Roll Up
  1. Inhale through your nose and exhale through pursed lips to use Pilates breathing.
  2. Sit with your legs straight in front of you. Squeeze your inner thighs together, and flex your feet. Feel the backs of your heels press into the mat. Inhale here.
  3. Exhale and tilt your pelvis, rolling down one vertebra at a time until you are laying on your back with your arms reaching toward the ceiling. As you roll down, make sure that your abdominals draw in toward your spine instead of pooching out in effort. If they pooch, pick a different version of this exercise for your next Roll up.
  4. Inhale and reach your arms above your head. Make sure that you don’t release your abs or let yourself relax into the floor. Bring your arms back above your chest.
  5. Exhale through pursed lips and let your head begin peeling your spine up off the mat one vertebra at a time. As you come up, your spine will stay flexed so that you end in a C-curve with your ribs lifted away from your hips and your arms reaching parallel to your legs.
  6. Inhale here.
  7. Exhale. Tilt your pelvis and roll down repeating steps 2-5.
  8. To finish, after you roll up to C-curve, inhale and lengthen your spine one vertebra at a time, starting with the pelvis.
  9. I recommend doing no more than five Roll ups because of the stress that they put on the hip flexors. If you’d like to add more, use them as a segway to move from exercise to exercise.

Related: How to Choose the Pilates Roll Up Modifications Best for You

4. The Pilates Hundred

This is another wonderful exercise to help you strengthen your adductor group. And, although it’s also very challenging, there are tons of ways to modify this exercise so it will work no matter what fitness (or pain) level you’re at.

picture of the hundred pilates exercise
The Hundred
  1. Begin on your back with your knees bent, feet about a fist’s distance apart. Make sure your pelvis and spine are in neutral. Arms reach by your sides.
  2. Let your abdominals completely relax toward your spine.
  3. Inhale through your nose into the sides of your ribs, and lightly activate your abdominals to keep this hollowed-out abdominal position. Make sure your spine (including your head and pelvis) are still in neutral.
  4. Exhale, lift one leg up to Table top, followed by the other leg.
  5. Hug your inner thighs toward each other.
  6. Inhale into the sides of the ribs and, as you exhale, hinge at the bottom rib to lift your upper body as if you are doing an Ab prep.
  7. If you have a neck injury, leave your head and upper body on the floor. If you are unable to keep your pelvis in neutral with your legs lifted to Table top, place your feet back on the floor. 
  8. Reach your legs out on a forty-five-degree angle without changing the shape of your spine and position of your pelvis. If your spine or pelvis has moved, bring your legs up toward the ceiling, bend your knees, or even set your feet back on the floor. 
  9. As you inhale and exhale, move at the shoulders to pump your arms by your sides. Your arms shouldn’t raise above your rib cage or lower the floor.
  10. Inhale through your nose for five counts. Exhale through pursed lips for five counts. Five plus five is ten. We do ten sets to make our Hundred.

Related: Beginner, Expert, or In-Between—7 Versions of the Pilates Hundred Exercise that Will Strengthen Your Core

5. Pilates One Leg Circles

This exercise is a little different from the others because it offers a strengthening and stretching opportunity. I do love a good multi-tasking exercise!

photo of pilates one leg circle exercise
One Leg Circles
  1. Begin on your back with your spine in neutral and your knees bent. Your heels are in line with your SITs bones. (This means your feet should be about a fist’s distance apart.)
  2. Take a moment to ensure that your pelvis, rib cage, and head are in neutral alignment.
  3. Reach your arms by your sides and broaden your collarbones.
  4. Inhale through your nose as you lift your right leg toward the ceiling.
  5. Exhale through pursed lips as you fully extend your right leg. Try to keep your pelvis in neutral. (It’s okay if your leg doesn’t straighten all the way.)  
  6. You may either keep your left leg bent or you may straighten it. Either way, make sure you still feel like the muscles in that leg are working. 
  7.  Inhale and bring your right leg past the midline of your body.
  8. As you exhale, your right leg circles down away from you, out to the side, and then toward your face. Please note that you’re drawing a circle on the ceiling. When the leg comes back to starting position, you’re not trying to return it straight to the ceiling. You’re using your thigh muscles (quadriceps) to bring the leg toward you. Circle this direction for 5-10 reps.
  9. Switch directions. Inhale and reach the working leg out to the side. Exhale and circle the leg down, past the midline, and toward your face. Circle this direction for 5-10 reps.
  10. Inhale to bend the knee. Exhale to set the foot on the floor in line with the SITs bones.
  11. Do the other side.

Related: Get Trim Thighs with One Leg Circle!

Some Other Exercises for Tight Adductors That Are Worth a Try:

These exercises are also really great for that stretch/strengthen combo. Plus, you often move from Warrior 2 into one or more of these poses to create a killer adductor-strengthening combo.

You might also want to check out:

When you practice these yoga poses, it’s important to feel like you are pushing the floor away with your legs. By doing this, you will also feel a scissoring movement, like your inner thighs are trying to move toward and past each other. This scissoring feeling indicates that your inner thighs are working and strengthening.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tight Adductors

You’ve already learned tons about all five of the adductor muscles–not just where each of them is and what it does, but also how to fix tight adductors and relieve your back pain. Still, you might have some additional questions. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about tight adductors and my answers.

1. How do you loosen tight adductors?

The best way to loosen tight adductors is to perform a mix of stretching and strengthening. I find it works best to do a stretching exercise like Butterfly pose and then follow that with a strengthening exercise like The Hundred. (Scroll up to find detailed instructions for how to do both of these exercises.)

But, sometimes it feels like your adductors are so tight, they just won’t budge no matter which stretches you try. If this is your situation, I highly recommend using a foam massage ball called The Orb. (Heads up, I’m an Amazon affiliate so if you order from this link, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.)

Personally, I love the Orb because I’m able to use it to give my whole body a nice massage. In particular, I love how it releases tension in my adductors and piriformis. Below is a video where I teach folks how to use their Orbs. If you go to the 9:29 mark, I’ll teach you how to roll your adductors.

But, maybe you’re in a situation where you don’t want to buy any tools right now. If that’s the case, you can always try massaging your adductors yourself, having your partner give it a go, or going to a professional massage therapist.

Either way, if stretches aren’t working on your tight adductors, try giving them a good massage.

2. What causes tight adductors?

Tight adductors can be caused by any number of issues from genetics to injury to poor posture. Unfortunately, if your genetics have left you with shortened or tight adductors, there’s not really much you can do about that. You should still do your best to stretch and strengthen those muscles, but you might not see a huge amount of progress.

However, if your tight adductors are because of injury or poor posture/habits, you should totally be able to use exercises to relieve your adductor tightness and get your muscles balanced again. Please note that if you’re recovering from an injury, make sure you are fully recovered before starting a stretching/strengthening program.

If you think your tight adductors might be from poor posture, I recommend these posts to help you find neutral:

3. What are the symptoms of tight adductors?

If you’re suffering from knee pain, hip pain, groin pain, or back pain; tight adductors might be to blame. Tight adductors impact how you walk, stand, and sit–they can even affect the way you sleep! Additionally, tight adductors can cause a clicking or popping noise in your pubic area when you walk.

4. Do weak glutes cause tight adductors?

I wouldn’t say that weak glutes necessarily cause tight adductors. However, having weak glutes certainly opens the door for your adductors to become tight.

You see, when your gluteus medius (which is a muscle on the side of your hip that’s responsible for stability) is weak, there’s going to be a whole lot of dysfunction that happens as a result. Your hamstrings, quadriceps, and adductors can become imbalanced around the hip area.

Additionally, with a weak gluteus medius, your pelvis and spine may not be able to hold correct alignment. If your spine’s out of alignment, this would impact more muscles than just the ones located around your hip area.

5. Does sitting tighten adductors?

Sitting for long periods of time could tighten your adductors. Really, it all depends on the position you’re sitting in, how long you stay in that position, and/or how often you find yourself staying in this position.

If, for example, you find yourself sitting at your work desk for hours on end with one leg thrown out to the side and the other foot tucked under you; you can safely assume that this sitting posture is causing your tight adductors.

On the other hand, if you sit for short periods of time or if you have both of your feet evenly planted on the floor beneath you, it’s not as likely that sitting is causing your adductors to tighten.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re researching adductors today because you have some hip or back pain that you’re trying to get rid of, you’re in luck! I’ve created a course to teach you everything you need to know to permanently ditch hip and back pain. Click here to check out my Spinal Rejuvenation program.

However, if you’d like to get a free sample of some of the pain-relieving techniques you’ll use in Spinal Rejuvenation, just enter your email address in the form below, and you’ll get The Fast + Easy Way to Relieve Hip + Back Pain delivered to your Inbox ASAP!

I just want to take a moment to thank Kenhub.com again for the use of their images. Kenhub.com is a leader in human anatomy-related information. To learn more about the adductor muscles, check out their post. It also includes videos!

About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! After experimenting with the very best and easiest ways to relieve hip + back pain, I figured out a powerful combination of exercises to ditch pain and get back to living a completely active life. Are you ready to get started?