Popliteus Muscle Injury

Popliteus muscle

The Popliteus muscle is a small muscle located at the back of the knee joint. A strain or tear of it causes pain at the back of the knee. Injuries can be sudden onset (acute) or gradual onset (chronic) overuse injuries.

Popliteus injury symptoms

  • The main symptom of a Popliteus strain is pain at the back of the knee joint.
  • It can occur gradually through overuse or may result from a sudden twisting, fall or collision.
  • The back of your knee will feel tender when pressing in.
  • Trying to bend your knee against resistance, whilst the tibia (shin) bone is rotated outwards is likely to reproduce pain.
  • If you have a Popliteus injury, it is likely you will have tight hamstrings.
  • If your injury is severe then even straightening your knee fully will be difficult.

What is a Popliteus injury?

The Popliteus muscle is responsible for internal rotation of the shin bone. It is also the muscle used when you unlock (begin to bend) your knee from a straight 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 posterolateral corner injury involving a number of other structures in the knee.

Overuse injuries

Overuse injuries to the popliteus muscle develop gradually and are most common running injuries. They tend to be due to biomechanical issues and tight hamstring muscles are often partly to blame.

Treatment of popliteus injuries

Self-help treatment

  • 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 an 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.

What can a professional do?

  • A professional practitioner will fully assess your injury and refer you 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.

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