The surgical anatomy of the piriformis tendon, with particular reference to total hip replacement: a cadaver study

Bone Joint J. 2013 Jun;95-B(6):764-9. doi: 10.1302/0301-620X.95B6.30727.


The piriformis muscle is an important landmark in the surgical anatomy of the hip, particularly the posterior approach for total hip replacement (THR). Standard orthopaedic teaching dictates that the tendon must be cut in to allow adequate access to the superior part of the acetabulum and the femoral medullary canal. However, in our experience a routine THR can be performed through a posterior approach without sacrificing this tendon. We dissected the proximal femora of 15 cadavers in order to clarify the morphological anatomy of the piriformis tendon. We confirmed that the tendon attaches on the crest of the greater trochanter, in a position superior to the trochanteric fossa, away from the entry point for broaching the intramedullary canal during THR. The tendon attachment site encompassed the summit and medial aspect of the greater trochanter as well as a variable attachment to the fibrous capsule of the hip joint. In addition we dissected seven cadavers resecting all posterior attachments except the piriformis muscle and tendon in order to study their relations to the hip joint, as the joint was flexed. At flexion of 90° the piriformis muscle lay directly posterior to the hip joint. The piriform fossa is a term used by orthopaedic surgeons to refer the trochanteric fossa and normally has no relation to the attachment site of the piriformis tendon. In hip flexion the piriformis lies directly behind the hip joint and might reasonably be considered to contribute to the stability of the joint. We conclude that the anatomy of the piriformis muscle is often inaccurately described in the current surgical literature and terms are used and interchanged inappropriately.

Keywords: Anatomy; Approach; Hip; Minimal access; Piriformis; Total hip replacement.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip / methods*
  • Cadaver
  • Female
  • Hip Joint / anatomy & histology*
  • Hip Joint / surgery
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / surgery
  • Tendons / anatomy & histology*
  • Tendons / surgery