Pelvis and Perineum

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Pelvis and Perineum

Conceptual overview

General description

The pelvis and perineum are interrelated regions associated with the pelvic bones and terminal parts of the vertebral column. The pelvis is divided into two regions:

The bowl-shaped pelvic cavity enclosed by the true pelvis consists of the pelvic inlet, walls, and floor. This cavity is continuous superiorly with the abdominal cavity and contains elements of the urinary, gastrointestinal, and reproductive systems.

The perineum (Fig. 5.1) is inferior to the floor of the pelvic cavity; its boundaries form the pelvic outlet. The perineum contains the external genitalia and external openings of the genitourinary and gastrointestinal systems.


Contains and supports the bladder, rectum, anal canal, and reproductive tracts

Within the pelvic cavity, the bladder is positioned anteriorly and the rectum posteriorly in the midline.

As it fills, the bladder expands superiorly into the abdomen. It is supported by adjacent elements of the pelvic bone and by the pelvic floor. The urethra passes through the pelvic floor to the perineum, where, in women, it opens externally (Fig. 5.2A) and in men it enters the base of the penis (Fig. 5.2B).

Continuous with the sigmoid colon at the level of vertebra SIII, the rectum terminates at the anal canal, which penetrates the pelvic floor to open into the perineum. The anal canal is angled posteriorly on the rectum. This flexure is maintained by muscles of the pelvic floor and is relaxed during defecation. A skeletal muscle sphincter is associated with the anal canal and the urethra as each passes through the pelvic floor.

The pelvic cavity contains most of the reproductive tract in women and part of the reproductive tract in men.

Component parts

Pelvic inlet

The pelvic inlet is somewhat heart shaped and completely ringed by bone (Fig. 5.4). Posteriorly, the inlet is bordered by the body of vertebra SI, which projects into the inlet as the sacral promontory. On each side of this vertebra, wing-like transverse processes called the alae (wings) contribute to the margin of the pelvic inlet. Laterally, a prominent rim on the pelvic bone continues the boundary of the inlet forward to the pubic symphysis, where the two pelvic bones are joined in the midline.

Structures pass between the pelvic cavity and the abdomen through the pelvic inlet.

During childbirth, the fetus passes through the pelvic inlet from the abdomen, into which the uterus has expanded during pregnancy, and then passes through the pelvic outlet.

Pelvic floor

The pelvic floor, which separates the pelvic cavity from the perineum, is formed by muscles and fascia (Fig. 5.7).

Two levator ani muscles attach peripherally to the pelvic walls and join each other at the midline by a connective tissue raphe. Together they are the largest components of the bowl- or funnel-shaped structure known as the pelvic diaphragm, which is completed posteriorly by the coccygeus muscles. These latter muscles overlie the sacrospinous ligaments and pass between the margins of the sacrum and the coccyx and a prominent spine on the pelvic bone, the ischial spine.

The pelvic diaphragm forms most of the pelvic floor and in its anterior regions contains a U-shaped defect, which is associated with elements of the urogenital system.

The anal canal passes from the pelvis to the perineum through a posterior circular orifice in the pelvic diaphragm.

The pelvic floor is supported anteriorly by:

The perineal membrane is a thick, triangular fascial sheet that fills the space between the arms of the pubic arch, and has a free posterior border (Fig. 5.7). The deep perineal pouch is a narrow region superior to the perineal membrane.

The margins of the U-shaped defect in the pelvic diaphragm merge into the walls of the associated viscera and with muscles in the deep perineal pouch below.

The vagina and the urethra penetrate the pelvic floor to pass from the pelvic cavity to the perineum.


The perineum lies inferior to the pelvic floor between the lower limbs (Fig. 5.9). Its margin is formed by the pelvic outlet. An imaginary line between the ischial tuberosities divides the perineum into two triangular regions.

Relationship to other regions


The cavity of the true pelvis is continuous with the abdominal cavity at the pelvic inlet (Fig. 5.10A). All structures passing between the pelvic cavity and abdomen, including major vessels, nerves, and lymphatics, as well as the sigmoid colon and ureters, pass via the inlet. In men, the ductus deferens on each side passes through the anterior abdominal wall and over the inlet to enter the pelvic cavity. In women, ovarian vessels, nerves, and lymphatics pass through the inlet to reach the ovaries, which lie on each side just inferior to the pelvic inlet.

Key features

The pelvic cavity projects posteriorly

In the anatomical position, the anterior superior iliac spines and the superior edge of the pubic symphysis lie in the same vertical plane (Fig. 5.11). Consequently, the pelvic inlet is angled 50°–60° forward relative to the horizontal plane, and the pelvic cavity projects posteriorly from the abdominal cavity.

Meanwhile, the urogenital part of the pelvic outlet (the pubic arch) is oriented in a nearly horizontal plane, whereas the posterior part of the outlet is positioned more vertically. The urogenital triangle of the perineum therefore faces inferiorly, while the anal triangle faces more posteriorly.

The prostate in men and the uterus in women are anterior to the rectum

In men, the prostate gland is situated immediately anterior to the rectum, just above the pelvic floor (Fig. 5.13). It can be felt by digital palpation during a rectal examination.

In both sexes, the anal canal and the lower rectum also can be evaluated during a rectal examination by a clinician. In women, the cervix and lower part of the body of the uterus also are palpable. However, these structures can more easily be palpated with a bimanual examination where the index and middle fingers of a clinician’s hand are placed in the vagina and the other hand is placed on the lower anterior abdominal wall. The organs are felt between the two hands. This bimanual technique can also be used to examine the ovaries and uterine tubes.

Nerves are related to bone

The pudendal nerve is the major nerve of the perineum and is directly associated with the ischial spine of the pelvis (Fig. 5.15). On each side of the body, these spines and the attached sacrospinous ligaments separate the greater sciatic foramina from the lesser sciatic foramina on the lateral pelvic wall.

The pudendal nerve leaves the pelvic cavity through the greater sciatic foramen and then immediately enters the perineum inferiorly to the pelvic floor by passing around the ischial spine and through the lesser sciatic foramen (Fig. 5.15). The ischial spine can be palpated transvaginally in women and is the landmark for administering a pudendal nerve block.

Parasympathetic innervation from spinal cord levels S2 to S4 controls erection

The parasympathetic innervation from spinal cord levels S2 to S4 controls genital erection in both women and men (Fig. 5.16). On each side, preganglionic parasympathetic nerves leave the anterior rami of the sacral spinal nerves and enter the inferior hypogastric plexus (pelvic plexus) on the lateral pelvic wall.

The two inferior hypogastric plexuses are inferior extensions of the abdominal prevertebral plexus that forms on the posterior abdominal wall in association with the abdominal aorta. Nerves derived from these plexuses penetrate the pelvic floor to innervate the erectile tissues of the clitoris in women and the penis in men.

The course of the urethra is different in men and women

In women, the urethra is short and passes inferiorly from the bladder through the pelvic floor and opens directly into the perineum (Fig. 5.18A).

In men the urethra passes through the prostate before coursing through the deep perineal pouch and perineal membrane and then becomes enclosed within the erectile tissues of the penis before opening at the end of the penis (Fig. 5.18B). The penile part of the male urethra has two angles:

It is important to consider the different courses of the urethra in men and women when catheterizing patients and when evaluating perineal injuries and pelvic pathology.

Regional anatomy

The pelvis is the region of the body surrounded by the pelvic bones and the inferior elements of the vertebral column. It is divided into two major regions: the superior region is the false (greater) pelvis and is part of the abdominal cavity; the inferior region is the true (lesser) pelvis, which encloses the pelvic cavity.

The bowl-shaped pelvic cavity is continuous above with the abdominal cavity. The rim of the pelvic cavity (the pelvic inlet) is completely encircled by bone. The pelvic floor is a fibromuscular structure separating the pelvic cavity above from the perineum below.

The perineum is inferior to the pelvic floor and its margin is formed by the pelvic outlet. The perineum contains:



The bones of the pelvis consist of the right and left pelvic (hip) bones, the sacrum, and the coccyx. The sacrum articulates superiorly with vertebra LV at the lumbosacral joint. The pelvic bones articulate posteriorly with the sacrum at the sacro-iliac joints and with each other anteriorly at the pubic symphysis.

Pelvic bone

The pelvic bone is irregular in shape and has two major parts separated by an oblique line on the medial surface of the bone (Fig. 5.19A):

The linea terminalis is the lower two-thirds of this line and contributes to the margin of the pelvic inlet.

The lateral surface of the pelvic bone has a large articular socket, the acetabulum, which, together with the head of the femur, forms the hip joint (Fig. 5.19B).

Inferior to the acetabulum is the large obturator foramen, most of which is closed by a flat connective tissue membrane, the obturator membrane. A small obturator canal remains open superiorly between the membrane and adjacent bone, providing a route of communication between the lower limb and the pelvic cavity.

The posterior margin of the bone is marked by two notches separated by the ischial spine:

The posterior margin terminates inferiorly as the large ischial tuberosity.

The irregular anterior margin of the pelvic bone is marked by the anterior superior iliac spine, the anterior inferior iliac spine, and the pubic tubercle.

Components of the pelvic bone

Each pelvic bone is formed by three elements: the ilium, pubis, and ischium. At birth, these bones are connected by cartilage in the area of the acetabulum; later, at between 16 and 18 years of age, they fuse into a single bone (Fig. 5.20).


Of the three components of the pelvic bone, the ilium is the most superior in position.

The ilium is separated into upper and lower parts by a ridge on the medial surface (Fig. 5.21A).

The arcuate line forms part of the linea terminalis and the pelvic brim.

The portion of the ilium lying inferiorly to the arcuate line is the pelvic part of the ilium and contributes to the wall of the lesser or true pelvis.

The upper part of the ilium expands to form a flat, fan-shaped “wing,” which provides bony support for the lower abdomen, or false pelvis. This part of the ilium provides attachment for muscles functionally associated with the lower limb. The anteromedial surface of the wing is concave and forms the iliac fossa. The external (gluteal) surface of the wing is marked by lines and roughenings and is related to the gluteal region of the lower limb (Fig. 5.21B).

The entire superior margin of the ilium is thickened to form a prominent crest (the iliac crest), which is the site of attachment for muscles and fascia of the abdomen, back, and lower limb and terminates anteriorly as the anterior superior iliac spine and posteriorly as the posterior superior iliac spine.

A prominent tubercle, the tuberculum of the iliac crest, projects laterally near the anterior end of the crest; the posterior end of the crest thickens to form the iliac tuberosity.

Inferior to the anterior superior iliac spine of the crest, on the anterior margin of the ilium, is a rounded protuberance called the anterior inferior iliac spine. This structure serves as the point of attachment for the rectus femoris muscle of the anterior compartment of the thigh and the iliofemoral ligament associated with the hip joint. A less prominent posterior inferior iliac spine occurs along the posterior border of the sacral surface of the ilium, where the bone angles forward to form the superior margin of the greater sciatic notch.


The anterior and inferior part of the pelvic bone is the pubis (Fig. 5.21). It has a body and two arms (rami).

image The body is flattened dorsoventrally and articulates with the body of the pubic bone on the other side at the pubic symphysis. The body has a rounded pubic crest on its superior surface that ends laterally as the prominent pubic tubercle.

image The superior pubic ramus projects posterolaterally from the body and joins with the ilium and ischium at its base, which is positioned toward the acetabulum. The sharp superior margin of this triangular surface is termed the pecten pubis (pectineal line), which forms part of the linea terminalis of the pelvic bone and the pelvic inlet. Anteriorly, this line is continuous with the pubic crest, which also is part of the linea terminalis and pelvic inlet. The superior pubic ramus is marked on its inferior surface by the obturator groove, which forms the upper margin of the obturator canal.

image The inferior ramus projects laterally and inferiorly to join with the ramus of the ischium.


The sacrum, which has the appearance of an inverted triangle, is formed by the fusion of the five sacral vertebrae (Fig. 5.22). The base of the sacrum articulates with vertebra LV, and its apex articulates with the coccyx. Each of the lateral surfaces of the bone bears a large L-shaped facet for articulation with the ilium of the pelvic bone. Posterior to the facet is a large roughened area for the attachment of ligaments that support the sacro-iliac joint. The superior surface of the sacrum is characterized by the superior aspect of the body of vertebra SI and is flanked on each side by an expanded wing-like transverse process termed the ala. The anterior edge of the vertebral body projects forward as the promontory. The anterior surface of the sacrum is concave; the posterior surface is convex. Because the transverse processes of adjacent sacral vertebrae fuse lateral to the position of the intervertebral foramina and lateral to the bifurcation of spinal nerves into posterior and anterior rami, the posterior and anterior rami of spinal nerves S1 to S4 emerge from the sacrum through separate foramina. There are four pairs of anterior sacral foramina on the anterior surface of the sacrum for anterior rami, and four pairs of posterior sacral foramina on the posterior surface for the posterior rami. The sacral canal is a continuation of the vertebral canal that terminates as the sacral hiatus.


The small terminal part of the vertebral column is the coccyx, which consists of four fused coccygeal vertebrae (Fig. 5.22) and, like the sacrum, has the shape of an inverted triangle. The base of the coccyx is directed superiorly. The superior surface bears a facet for articulation with the sacrum and two horns, or cornua, one on each side, that project upward to articulate or fuse with similar downward-projecting cornua from the sacrum. These processes are modified superior and inferior articular processes that are present on other vertebrae. Each lateral surface of the coccyx has a small rudimentary transverse process, extending from the first coccygeal vertebra. Vertebral arches are absent from coccygeal vertebrae; therefore no bony vertebral canal is present in the coccyx.


Lumbosacral joints

The sacrum articulates superiorly with the lumbar part of the vertebral column. The lumbosacral joints are formed between vertebra LV and the sacrum and consist of:

These joints are similar to those between other vertebrae, with the exception that the sacrum is angled posteriorly on vertebra LV. As a result, the anterior part of the intervertebral disc between the two bones is thicker than the posterior part.

The lumbosacral joints are reinforced by strong iliolumbar and lumbosacral ligaments that extend from the expanded transverse processes of vertebra LV to the ilium and the sacrum, respectively (Fig. 5.23B).

Sacro-iliac joints

The sacro-iliac joints transmit forces from the lower limbs to the vertebral column. They are synovial joints between the L-shaped articular facets on the lateral surfaces of the sacrum and similar facets on the iliac parts of the pelvic bones (Fig. 5.24A). The joint surfaces have an irregular contour and interlock to resist movement. The joints often become fibrous with age and may become completely ossified.

Each sacro-iliac joint is stabilized by three ligaments:

Pubic symphysis joint

The pubic symphysis lies anteriorly between the adjacent surfaces of the pubic bones (Fig. 5.25). Each of the joint’s surfaces is covered by hyaline cartilage and is linked across the midline to adjacent surfaces by fibrocartilage. The joint is surrounded by interwoven layers of collagen fibers and the two major ligaments associated with it are:


In the anatomical position, the pelvis is oriented so that the front edge of the top of the pubic symphysis and the anterior superior iliac spines lie in the same vertical plane (Fig. 5.26). As a consequence, the pelvic inlet, which marks the entrance to the pelvic cavity, is tilted to face anteriorly, and the bodies of the pubic bones and the pubic arch are positioned in a nearly horizontal plane facing the ground.

Differences between men and women

The pelvises of women and men differ in a number of ways, many of which have to do with the passing of a baby through a woman’s pelvic cavity during childbirth.

True pelvis

The true pelvis is cylindrical and has an inlet, a wall, and an outlet. The inlet is open, whereas the pelvic floor closes the outlet and separates the pelvic cavity, above, from the perineum, below.

Pelvic inlet

The pelvic inlet is the circular opening between the abdominal cavity and the pelvic cavity through which structures traverse between the abdomen and pelvic cavity. It is completely surrounded by bones and joints (Fig. 5.28). The promontory of the sacrum protrudes into the inlet, forming its posterior margin in the midline. On either side of the promontory, the margin is formed by the alae of the sacrum. The margin of the pelvic inlet then crosses the sacro-iliac joint and continues along the linea terminalis (i.e., the arcuate line, the pecten pubis or pectineal line, and the pubic crest) to the pubic symphysis.

Pelvic wall

The walls of the pelvic cavity consist of the sacrum, the coccyx, the pelvic bones inferior to the linea terminalis, two ligaments, and two muscles.

Ligaments of the pelvic wall

The sacrospinous and sacrotuberous ligaments (Fig. 5.29A) are major components of the lateral pelvic walls that help define the apertures between the pelvic cavity and adjacent regions through which structures pass.

These ligaments stabilize the sacrum on the pelvic bones by resisting the upward tilting of the inferior aspect of the sacrum (Fig. 5.29B). They also convert the greater and lesser sciatic notches of the pelvic bone into foramina (Fig. 5.29A,B).

Muscles of the pelvic wall

Two muscles, the obturator internus and the piriformis, contribute to the lateral walls of the pelvic cavity. These muscles originate in the pelvic cavity but attach peripherally to the femur.

Obturator internus

The obturator internus is a flat, fan-shaped muscle that originates from the deep surface of the obturator membrane and from associated regions of the pelvic bone that surround the obturator foramen (Fig. 5.30 and Table 5.1).

Table 5.1

Muscles of the pelvic walls

Muscle Origin Insertion Innervation Function
Obturator internus Anterolateral wall of true pelvis (deep surface of obturator membrane and surrounding bone) Medial surface of greater trochanter of femur Nerve to obturator internus L5, SI Lateral rotation of the extended hip joint; abduction of flexed hip
Piriformis Anterior surface of sacrum between anterior sacral foramina Medial side of superior border of greater trochanter of femur Branches from SI, and S2 Lateral rotation of the extended hip joint; abduction of flexed hip


The muscle fibers of the obturator internus converge to form a tendon that leaves the pelvic cavity through the lesser sciatic foramen, makes a 90° bend around the ischium between the ischial spine and ischial tuberosity, and then passes posterior to the hip joint to insert on the greater trochanter of the femur.

The obturator internus forms a large part of the anterolateral wall of the pelvic cavity.

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