Obturator nerve

Last revised by Craig Hacking on 18 Apr 2023

The obturator nerve is a large nerve arising from the lumbar plexus and the nerve of the medial compartment of the thigh. It arises from the anterior divisions of L2-4 in the lumbar plexus

Gross anatomy


The nerve descends medial to psoas major to the obturator canal where it divides into anterior and posterior divisions. The anterior division exits from the obturator canal to enter the medial compartment of the thigh. The posterior division exits through obturator externus.

Medial compartment of thigh

The adductor brevis muscle separates the divisions of the obturator nerve:

Anterior division

Branches of the anterior division include:

Posterior division

Branches of the posterior division supply:

Subsartorial canal

Branch of the anterior division contributes to the subsartorial nerve plexus (near the insertion of adductor longus).

Related pathology

Injury to the obturator nerve weakens hip adduction and contributes to instability. Irritation of the nerve may result in pain in the medial thigh/knee. 

Pathology can include direct trauma (i.e. childbirth) or pelvic pathology (i.e. tumor).

Nerve entrapment can occur within the obturator canal or as the nerve pierces the obturator externus muscle. 

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: lumbar plexus labeled
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  • Figure 2: obturator nerve
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  • Figure 3: lumbar plexus (Gray's illustrations)
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  • Figure 4: lumbar plexus (Gray's illustrations)
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