The Popliteus is a small muscle located at the back of the knee joint. An injury or strain to the muscle or tendon can cause pain at the back of the knee.
Popliteus injury symptoms
Symptoms of a popliteus injury include pain at the back of the knee joint. There will be tenderness when pressing in at the back of the knee. Pain will be reproduced when the knee is bent against resistance whilst the lower leg or tibia bone is rotated outwards. Athletes with this injury commonly have tight hamstrings. If the injury is severe then straightening the knee fully will be difficult.
Popliteus injury explained
The Popliteus muscle is responsible for internal rotation of the shin bone as well as for unlocking the knee joint when bending the knee from a fully straightened position. Injury of the popliteus muscle can be either from an acute injury, or through overuse.
Acute popliteus injuries
Acute injuries to the popliteus occur after a significant force to the knee. They are common in road traffic accidents or falls where the knee is extended or over straightened. It might also be injured through impacts which force the knee out to the side.
Popliteus injuries may occur in associated with other injuries such as posterior cruciate ligament tears or occasionally ACL ruptures, as well as being part of the posteriolateral corner injury involving a number of other structures in the knee.
Overuse injuries to the popliteus muscle develop gradually and are most common in runners. They tend to be due to biomechanical issues and tight hamstring muscles are often partly to blame.
Treatment of popliteus injuries
Rest from aggravating activities. Complete rest may not be necessary but avoiding anything that causes pain or makes the injury worse should be avoided.
Apply ice or cold therapy immediately after injury. Ice or a cold pack can be applied for 10 minutes every hour for the first 24 to 48 hours during the acute stage, although not directly to the skin. Use a wet tea towel.
Once the acute stage has passed gentle stretching of the hamstring muscles should be done several times a day as long as pain allows. Hold stretches for 20 seconds at a time and repeat 3 times. Wear a heat retainer or knee support to protect the muscle and encourage blood flow.
A professional practitioner will fully assess the injury and refer for imaging if required. Deep tissue sports massage to the muscle along with ultrasound therapy may be beneficial. A full rehabilitation program to strengthen both the quadriceps and the hamstrings should be undertaken. A doctor may prescribe NSAID's or anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen if necessary and for persistent or severe cases a corticosteroid injection may be used if the above treatment fails.