Pelvis and hip joint

Overview of the pelvis


Development of the pelvis


Bony pelvis

Hip bones

Bones Landmarks Anatomic features
  • Posterior and inferior part of the pelvic girdle
  • The body forms the inferoposterior part of the acetabulum
  • The ramus connects with the inferior pubic ramus
    • Forms the ischiopubic ramus

The anterior superior iliac spine helps to determine the course of the inguinal ligament. In addition, it aids in the identification of the McBurney and Lanz points which are important anatomical locations where localized tenderness is indicative of appendicitis.

Pelvic inlet

Pelvic outlet

Joints of the pelvis

Joint Characteristics
Lumbosacral joint
  • Between the L5 vertebra and the sacral promontory
  • Stabilized by iliolumbar ligaments
Sacroiliac joint
Sacrococcygeal joint
Pubic symphysis
Hip joint
  • Ball-and-socket type of joint
  • Formed by the articulation of the femur and the acetabulum
  • See details in the section below

Pelvic diameters

  • See “Birth canal” below for more information on pelvic diameters.

Types of pelvises

  • See “Birth canal” below for more information on the types of pelvises.

Differences between the male and female pelvis

Male Female

Bigger, thicker, and heavier

Smaller, thinner, and lighter

Sacrum Longer and narrower Shorter and wider
Pelvic cavity Narrower and deeper Wider and shallower
Pelvic inlet Heart-shaped Oval-shaped
Pelvic outlet Smaller pelvic outlet
Obturator foramen Round Triangular or oval
Subpubic angle Smaller Larger

Soft tissues of the pelvis

Urogenital diaphragm (triangular ligament)

Structure Anatomy
Deep transverse perineal muscle
  • Runs from the ischial rami towards the median plane, where it forms a tendinous raphe with its counterpart muscle
  • Innervated by the pudendal nerve
Urethral sphincter
Perineal membrane
  • Triangular-shaped membrane formed by the inferior border of the deep perineal pouch and the superior border of the superficial perineal pouch
  • Attached to the perineal body medially and the margins of the pubic and ischial rami laterally

Compressor urethrae muscle

  • Runs from the inferior pubic ramus bilaterally towards the median plane, where it wraps around the urethra (and vagina in females).

Muscle layers of the pelvis

Layer Muscle
Superficial perineal layer
Deep urogenital diaphragm layer
Pelvic diaphragm

Ligaments of the pelvis

Ligament Anatomy and function
Anterior sacroiliac ligament
Posterior sacroiliac ligament
Sacrospinous ligament
Sacrotuberous ligament
Ligaments of the hip joint

Foramina of the pelvis

Foramen Anatomy Structures
Greater sciatic foramen
Lesser sciatic foramen
Obturator foramen
Pudendal canal
Vascular lacuna
Muscular lacuna


Pelvic cavity and spaces

Pelvic cavity

Pelvic spaces

Structure Anatomy
Rectovesical pouch (only in males)
Rectouterine pouch of Douglas (only in females)
Pararectal fossa
  • Connects at both sides with the rectovesical pouch in males and the rectouterine pouch in females
  • Located on both sides of the intraperitoneal portion of the rectum
  • Lateral boundaries
    • The uterosacral folds in females
    • The sacrogenital folds in males
Vesicouterine pouch (only in females)
Rectovesical space (only in males)
Ischiorectal fossa (ischioanal fossa)
Retropubic space of Retzius

Pelvic floor

Overview of the pelvic floor

  • A complex structure located in the opening of the pelvic outlet.
  • Funnel-shaped structure
  • Attached to the lesser pelvis
  • Separates the perineum from the pelvic cavity
  • Contains two openings
    • Rectal hiatus: allows passage of the anal canal. Located centrally.
    • Urogenital hiatus: allows passage of the urethra in both sexes and the vagina in females. Located anteriorly.
  • Contains the perineal body (central tendon of the perineum)
    • Fibromuscular structure
    • Between the anal and urogenital hiatus
  • Function
    • Supports abdominopelvic viscera (e.g., intestines, bladder, uterus, etc)
    • Resists and helps maintain increases in intraabdominal and intrapelvic pressure
    • Aids in fecal and urinary continence by contraction of muscle fibers
      • Relaxation of muscle fibers facilitate defecation and urination


Anatomy Function

Levator ani muscle

Coccygeus muscle

Fascial layers of the levator ani and coccygeus muscles also form part of the pelvic floor.


Birth canal


  • The female pelvis is larger and wider than the male pelvis.
  • The female pelvis is divided into:
    • True pelvis: below the linea terminalis (pelvic edge); comprises the bony canal: the ileum (superior-laterally), ischium (inferior-laterally), pubis (anteriorly), sacrum, and coccyx (posteriorly)
    • False pelvis: above the linea terminalis; consists of the abdominal wall (anteriorly), lumbar vertebrae (posteriorly), iliac fossae (laterally)
  • The birth canal is the passage, consisting of the mother's bony pelvis and soft tissues (i.e., uterus, cervix, vagina, vulva, and pelvic floor), through which a fetus passes during vaginal delivery. It is described in terms of:
    • Pelvic form
    • 3 pelvic regions
    • 4 pelvic planes
    • Soft tissue structures

Pelvic form, pelvic regions, and pelvic planes

Birth canal
Pelvic form
  • Gynecoid (typical female type): transverse oval inlet, wide sacrum, wide sacrosciatic notch, straight side walls, wide subpubic angle
  • Anthropoid (ape-like type): long anteroposterior diameters, short transverse diameters, wide sacrosciatic notch, narrow subpubic angle
  • Android (male type): triangular inlet, converging side walls, narrow sacrosciatic notch, narrow subpubic angle
  • Plateylpelloid (flat variation of gynecoid type): short anteroposterior diameters, long transverse diameters, narrow sacrosciatic notch, wide subpubic angle
Pelvic regions Pelvic inlet
  • Form: transverse ellipse
  • Boundaries: sacral promontory (posteriorly), linea terminalis (laterally), and symphysis pubis (anteriorly)
  • Diameters
    • True conjugate (tip of the sacral promontory to the upper border of the symphysis pubis) = ∼11 cm
    • Obstetric conjugate (tip of the sacral promontory to the most protruding point on the posterior surface of the symphysis pubis) = ∼10.5 cm
    • Transverse diameter (between the furthest two points on the iliopectineal lines) = ∼13 cm
    • Oblique diameters: right and left (sacroiliac joint to the each iliopectineal eminence) = ∼12 cm each, sacrocotyloid diameters (promontory of the sacrum to each iliopectineal eminence) = ∼ 9 cm
Pelvic cavity (mid-pelvis)
  • Form: round
  • Boundaries: plane of greatest and least pelvic diameter (roof and floor), sacrum (posteriorly), and symphysis pubis (anteriorly)
Pelvic outlet
  • Form: longitudinal oval
  • Boundaries: ischial spines (laterally), plane of least pelvic dimension (roof), pelvic outlet (floor), coccyx (posteriorly), and lower border of symphysis pubis (anteriorly)
  • Diameters: anteroposterior diameter = ∼13 cm, bituberous diameters = ∼11 cm, bispinous diameters = ∼10.5 cm
Pelvic planes Plane of the pelvic inlet
  • At the level of the pelvic brim boundaries and make an angle with the horizon (angle of pelvic inclination)
Plane of greatest pelvic dimension (mid-cavity)
Plane of least pelvic dimension (obstetric outlet)
Plane of the anatomical outlet
Soft tissue structures

Vessels, nerves, and lymphatics of the pelvis


Branches / Origin Area of supply
Internal iliac artery
  • Skin on the sacral region
  • Gluteal muscles
  • Perineum
  • Muscles of the thigh, and the head of the femur (via the acetabular branch)
Medial sacral artery
Superior rectal artery
Ovarian artery


The veins follow the course of the artery and are named accordingly, and drain the same structures supplied by the arteries mentioned above (e.g., internal iliac artery and internal iliac vein).


For details on the sacral plexus see learning card on Thigh, knee, and popliteal fossa

Structure Branches and area of supply
Autonomic nerves
Pudendal nerve (S2–S4)


Course along the internal iliac vessels and drain into the following lymph nodes:

Lymph nodes Area of drainage

Inferior mesenteric and aortic lymph nodes

Paraaortic lymph nodes

Internal and external iliac lymph nodes


Hip joint


For muscles of the hip joint and their blood supply and innervation, see the learning card on thigh, knee, and popliteal fossa.


Ligaments of the hip joint

Anatomy Function
Iliofemoral ligament
  • Prevents excessive lateral rotation and hyperextension of the hip (in the standing position)
Ischiofemoral ligament
  • Runs from the ischial region of the acetabulum to the neck of the femur medial to the greater trochanter
  • Reinforces the fibrous capsule anteriorly
  • limits medial rotation and extension of the thigh
Pubofemoral ligament
  • Runs from the pubic part of the acetabular rim and the superior pubic ramus to the lower part of the femoral neck
  • Reinforces the fibrous capsule inferiorly
Transverse acetabular ligament
  • Fibrous structure on the lower part of the acetabulum that converts the acetabular notch into a foramen.
  • Allows passage of vessels and nerves into the joint space.
Round ligament of the head of femur
  • Pathway for the foveolar artery to the head of the femur

The gluteal region

Muscle Origin Insertion Innervation


Action occurs at the hip joint

Superficial gluteal muscles

Gluteus maximus
  • Gluteal tuberosity of the femur and iliotibial band
  • Inferior gluteal nerve
  • Lateral rotation and extension of the thigh
  • Abduction (upper fibers) and adduction (lower fibers) of the hip
  • Forms the contour of the buttocks
Gluteus medius
  • Greater trochanter
  • Superior gluteal nerve
Gluteus minimus
Tensor fascia latae
  • Iliotibial band
  • Superior gluteal nerve
Deep gluteal muscles Piriformis
  • Greater trochanter
Obturator internus
  • Ischiopubic ramus and obturator membrane
Superior gemellus
Inferior gemellus
  • Ischial tuberosity
Quadratus femoris
  • Ischial tuberosity
  • Intertrochanteric crest

All superficial gluteal muscles abduct and medially rotate the thigh. All deep gluteal muscles and gluteus maximus laterally rotate the thigh.

Superior gluteal nerve palsy causes paralysis of the gluteus medius and minimus that results in a positive Trendelenburg sign.

Clinical significance

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  • 2. Jung J, Ahn HK, Huh Y. Clinical and functional anatomy of the urethral sphincter. Int Neurourol J. 2012; 16(3): pp. 102–6. doi: 10.5213/inj.2012.16.3.102.
  • 3. Guccione AA, Wong R, Avers D. Geriatric Physical Therapy. Mosby; 2012.
  • 4. Cunningham GR, Rosen RC. Overview of male sexual dysfunction. In: Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate. Last updated May 11, 2016. Accessed February 23, 2017.
  • Standring S. Gray's Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2016.
  • Drake R. Gray's Anatomy for Students. Elsevier; 2019.
  • Hopayian K et al. The clinical features of the piriformis syndrome: a systematic review. European Spine Journal. 2010; 19(12): pp. 2095–2109. doi: 10.1007/s00586-010-1504-9.
last updated 12/21/2019
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