The popliteus is a small and thin muscle behind the knee joint. You wouldn’t even know it’s there – until it starts to hurt. The role of this muscle is to help with knee rotation and other movements such as bending your leg. Injuries can occur due to repetitive movements or trauma to the knee. Thankfully, this is something that will go away once you get enough rest.

How Do Popliteus Injuries Occur?

Popliteus tendinitis is the medical term used to refer to injuries to this muscle. It is used regardless of what caused the injury and behind the knee pain is the most common symptom you will experience if this muscle is damaged.

Injuries As A Result Of Trauma

An impact, fall, or strong force exerted on the knee area can result in an injury. Typically, the popliteus would be damaged by a fall that caused the knee to become overextended. An impact that causes the knee to move to the side could also result in damaged muscle fibers.

If your popliteus injury is the result of a shock or trauma to the knee, you would more than likely suffer from other torn ligaments and muscles in the area and the pain wouldn’t be limited to the area behind your knee.

This type of ligament tear is likely to happen when playing a contact sport like football. A fall that causes your knee to overextend can happen in a number of settings, but this type of injury is likely to occur while sliding to make a base on a baseball field or when two players accidentally collide on a basketball court.

Injuries As A Result Of Overuse

Repetitive movements put a lot of strain on your joints, ligaments, and muscles. Popliteus muscle injuries are fairly common in runners since the knee has to absorb repetitive shocks. This type of strain can also occur when you lift weights with a bad posture.

This muscle is more likely to get injured if you have tight hamstring muscles or overdeveloped muscles in your legs or thighs that would pull too hard on this smaller muscle. In fact, an imbalance in your leg muscles can put pressure on the entire knee structure and lead to other symptoms.

Symptoms Of Popliteus Tendinitis

The most common symptom of popliteus tendinitis is pain behind the knee. You are more likely to feel this pain when extending your knee or when bending. If the injury is severe, your range of motion might be limited.

You will experience pain and weakness in the knee whether the muscle tear is the result of trauma or overuse. However, there will be other symptoms after your knee sustains trauma such as bruising, swelling, and pain in other areas such as the front and sides of the knee.

The damages caused by repetitive motions such as running can also spread to other areas of the knee. You might notice redness, swelling, and pain on the outside of the knee even though your popliteus is torn.

Weakness is another common symptom. You might feel as if your knees cannot support your weight and are about to give.

Your symptoms will vary depending on how severe your injury is. A simple strain would affect a small percentage of the muscle fibers in your knee and only cause tenderness and pain that is manageable. A more serious injury like a rupture of the muscle would leave you in severe pain and restrict your range of motion.

How Are These Injuries Diagnosed?

It is always best to see a physician after sustaining a traumatic injury to the knee. You should also see your doctor if you notice pain, tenderness, and swelling in your knee and if you run on a regular basis.

Your doctor will ask you to perform a few movements to assess how your range of motion is affected. A physical inspection will help determine where the swelling and tenderness is occurring.

Determining the exact location of the muscle strain can be difficult because the popliteus is covered by another larger muscle. However, your doctor will be able to deduct that this muscle is affected if you are unable to flex or extend your knee without experiencing pain.

Your doctor will ask questions to determine what could have caused a muscle tear. Activities like running or lifting weight will help your doctor diagnose you. You should also mention any recent falls or shocks.

A physical examination is usually enough to diagnose this type of muscle tears. If there are any doubts, your doctor might recommend an MRI scan to see tendons, muscles, and bones. This type of scan allows your doctor to see where the damaged tissues are.

It is possible to diagnose yourself with a damaged popliteus because you will experience pain behind the knee. However, it is best to see your doctor since there might be other issues with your knee.

Treating Popliteus Tendonitis

The best way to treat this type of knee injury depends on how severe your symptoms are and on how the tear affects your range of motion. You should see a physical therapist to talk about your treatment options if your range of motion is severely limited.

Get Some Rest

You need to give your muscle tissues enough time to heal. Get as much rest as you can and avoid moving your knee for a few days. If you hurt your knee because of an activity like running, you will need to stop for a while.

Wearing a knee brace will help. The brace will reduce the pressure on your muscle and keep your knee in place.

You can take Ibuprofen and other similar treatments to reduce inflammation. If you sustained a more severe injury, your doctor will probably prescribe something to help with pain and inflammation.

Use Hot And Cold Treatments

Your first reflex should be to ice your knee after an injury. You shouldn’t apply ice directly on your skin, but you can wrap ice cubes in a towel or use a cold pack. Cold treatments help with swelling, reduce inflammation and numb the pain. Don’t use cold treatments for more than ten minutes once an hour.

Hot treatments, including heating pads and warm compresses, will help with blood flow. This should accelerate the healing process and relax the muscles. However, you shouldn’t use hot treatments right after a knee injury and should wait for a couple of days before trying hot treatments.


Damaged muscle tissue takes time to heal. If you don’t stretch regularly during the healing process, your muscle won’t recover its elasticity. In fact, scar tissue might build up in the muscle and reduce your range of motion.

This is why you need to stretch as often as you can. Don’t worry about stretching during the first two or three days following your knee injury, but try stretching regularly once the pain and swelling are more manageable.

Try Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often needed for severe injuries. You might also need physical therapy if you experience severe pain as a result of overuse.

Your treatment plan will probably include sports massages to help deep tissues heal. You will also have to exercise to strengthen your muscles and get your full range of motion back. Strengthening your knee and surrounding muscles will prevent more injuries in the future.

Can Knee Injuries Be Prevented?

If you experience pain behind your knee on a regular basis, try to figure out what is causing it. You can protect your knee from shocks by wearing special running shoes while jogging. You can work on improving your posture while lifting weights. You can also protect the entire knee structure by wearing a pad or a brace while playing contact sports.

If you are returning to practicing your favorite sports after treating popliteus tendinitis, you should wear a brace. This will help support your knee and reduce the strain on your muscles.

You should also know that an imbalanced muscle mass in your legs can increase the strain on your knees and surrounding muscles. An athlete with tight hamstrings is more likely to experience this type of injury. You can reduce the strain on your knees by working on developing your legs more evenly by targeting different muscle groups.

Remember to always stretch before practicing a sport. You should also stretch when you are done. This only takes a few minutes and reduces your risks of sustaining injuries. Pay attention to how your knees feel and stop practicing an activity right away if you feel pain or weakness.

Popliteus tears can be painful and prevent you from practicing your favorite sport for a while. These injuries can be the result of a fall or shock or simply be caused by repetitive movements. You can treat this type of knee injury by getting plenty of rest, managing the pain as best as you can, and working on strengthening your knees and getting your range of motion back once the pain and swelling diminish.

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