The popliteus is a tiny muscle in the back of the knee that runs from the outside of the femur to the tibia or shin bone. It has a couple of different functions but its main one it to unlock the knee from a fully extended position. Due to its position in the back of the knee it also gives stability to the other structures in the back of the knee such as the PCL.
When the popliteus is tight or under a lot of stress it can create a lot problems in the knee. People often experience deep knee pain and referred pain into the hamstrings and calf muscles. Due to the fact that the popliteus runs across the top of the femoral artery it can also cause some cramping or swelling in the calf if it is very tight.
Causes of popliteus tension
- Knee surgery – It is believed that the popliteus can contract up to 300% after knee surgeries due to the patients inability to fully extend their knee. This can cause the popliteus to become hypertonic and can cause post surgical knee pain.
- Over stretching in dancers and gymnasts- In sports such as gymnastics and dancing where there is an excessive amount of stretching and hypermobilisation of joints the popliteus can become hypertonic as a way of creating stability in the knee joint. This is a common cause of knee pain in dancers and gymnasts.
- Poor posture- In the normal population standing with your knee completely locked out or straightened out on coffee tables or benches in front of chair and couches can create a lot of tension in the popliteus muscle. If you have knee pain check your posture and make adjustments so you are not over stretching the back of the knee and causing the popliteus to become overactive.
- Weakness in muscles surrounding the knee- The popliteus is an amazing compensator muscle. What this means is that if other muscles around the knee become inactive or weak due to inactivity or injury the popliteus will kick in as a compensator. A very common pattern I see is a weak VMO ( medial quad) with a tight facilitated popliteus. Imbalances like these can be a big contributor to knee pain.
If you have knee pain it is important to consider the role of the popliteus muscle. If you found this interesting feel free to check out my other health tips or get in touch with my Brisbane CBD Chiropractic clinic.