What is Popliteus Muscle Pain?

The popliteus is a deep muscle located behind your knee. Its function is to assist with knee flexion (bending) by ‘unlocking’ the joint through internal and external rotation of femur on the tibia bone. During walking, the popliteus externally rotates as the tibia comes in contact with the ground within the gait cycle. The tibia is medially rotated when sitting down or standing up. The popliteus is also attached to the lateral meniscus of the knee, protecting it from getting crushed during flexion. Overall, the role of the popliteus muscle is to stabilise the knee during movement and protect the meniscus from injury. 

Lateral condyle of the femur. The lateral meniscus. Posterior surface of the tibia, near the soleus line.

If you are experiencing popliteus muscle pain or shortening, you may experience some of these symptoms:

  • Pain at the back of the knee
  • Tenderness and sensitivity to touch
  • Inability to completely straighten or bend the knee
  • Pain on rotating the knee
  • Cracking sound during movement 

Walking, running or going up or down stairs can become very difficult if you experience popliteus muscle pain. Going downhill will especially strain this muscle. Pain within the popliteus is usually accompanied by other trauma within the surrounding area or occurs when there is a history of knee injury. 

The popliteus muscle does not refer pain outside the area of the muscle, and it localised to the back of the knee only. A soft tissue occupational therapist will be able to correctly diagnose the cause of your pain and treat accordingly using hands-on myofascial techniques. 

Pain can be caused by:

  • Overuse
  • Muscle strength imbalances
  • Lack of warm up or stretching before physical activity 
  • Poor footwear
  • Walking on uneven terrain or going downhill
  • A traumatic force on the leg when it is rotated

Managing popliteus muscle pain

Heat therapy

Apply a heat pack to the inside area of your calf, below the knee. You can also take a hot shower, allowing the water to hit your lower legs, take a warm bath or dip your legs in warm water that reaches your knees. The heat allows your muscles to relax and increases blood circulation in the area to allow for healing. Heat therapy should be limited to 15-20 minutes at a time, as to not aggravate your skin too much and accidentally cause superficial burns. Avoid using ice as it reduces the healing response of the body and causes your muscles to tighten. 

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment

Soft tissue occupational therapy treatment focuses on treating musculoskeletal disorders of the body through diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. A soft tissue occupational therapist will be able to provide popliteus pain relief through hands-on massage treatments such as trigger point therapy.

If you would like popliteus muscle pain relief, book in to see a soft tissue occupational therapist at Urban Health HQ. You can make an appointment today or contact us by calling 0411 563 391 or email kristen@urbanhealthhq.com.au 

Published by Urban Health HQ

We are a health and fitness centre offering Occupational Therapy, Exercise Physiology, Personal Training and Group Fitness classes.

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