Pain Behind Knee from the Popliteus Muscle

Pain Behind KneeHave you ever asked yourself if the pain behind knee that you feel is coming from the Popliteus muscle? Probably not because most people don’t know what that is. There are several pain behind knee issues that could be affecting you.

However, this article will specifically deal with one area to help you understand (in clear terms) more about this small muscle, what causes pain behind your knee and what tips you can use for relief.

What is the Popliteus Muscle?

The Popliteus is a muscle (pictured above in red) located at the back of the knee joint. It plays an important part in unlocking the knees when flexing or extending. It is also involved in rotating the Tibia (shinbone) and Femur (thigh bone).

Tip: see our awesome 3D knee diagram for more about knee anatomy.

What Causes Popliteus Pain Behind Knee?

There are several pain behind knee causes you may have experienced. Here are the most common ones.

Acute trauma

An accident or fall with the knee extended is a common cause of pain behind the knee. Occasionally hyperextension from a sports injury (or aggressive activity) can tear the muscle.

Chronic overuse

Excessive running such as in a marathon can lead to pain behind the knee. In addition, bad workout techniques can lead to tendinitis in the legs which can cause a lot of pain.

Reactive muscle tone

A reactive muscle from surgery or poor leg function can cause pain behind knee problems. The 3 causes of reactive muscle tone is explained in full detail in this excellent article by Chris Mallac.

How to Relieve Popliteus Muscle Pain

Relieving the knee pain in the Popliteus muscle is usually straightforward. The RICE method for injuries should relieve your pain in many cases. Avoid activity for 6 weeks that puts unnecessary stress on the tendon, such as running or exercising. Ice behind the knee regularly to bring the pain and swelling down.

Over the counter medication, such as Advil or Motrin can be taken as prescribed. For more serious injury to the popliteal contact your professional medical practitioner to discuss your pain relief options.

If your pain behind knee isn’t caused by popliteus muscle, then see our 5 Pain Behind Knee Causes (with Relief Tips) article for help in diagnosing your exact issues.

What caused your pain behind knee and how did you relieve it? Please let us know below.

Article last updated on January 7th, 2019, first published on February 26, 2013.

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18 thoughts on “Pain Behind Knee from the Popliteus Muscle

  1. I sometimes wake up at night and I have this funny pain (muscle pain?) on the back of my knee. It will go away after about 10 or 15 minutes, but I have to get out of bed and walk around and after awhile it goes away. The pain is uncomfortable enough that I can’t just lie there, I have to gt up and move around.

    What could be wrong to cause this? I haven’t fallen or done any damage that I know of.

    1. Is it the way you are sleeping? Have you tried to elevate your knees to avoid certain positions? Is the popliteus muscle swollen or do you just feel funny pain? I would have your doctor have a look just to make sure. If you don’t have a doctor talk to your local pharmacist. They have a world of knowledge and it’s free advice. Good luck.

  2. I developed pain in the back of my knee a week ago, near the end of an 8-mile run. I took 5 days off and tried to run this morning but only got about 1/3 mile before I felt the pain. It feels like it’s the actual tendon. When I stopped running to walk, it didn’t hurt. The pain does come and go while at rest or just going about daily activity. I was training for a 1/2 marathon about 8 weeks from now — I guess that’s out of the question? I don’t remember doing anything different when the pain started, and I had worked up to that mileage. I’ve been icing and will try Advil. I will miss running – I’ve been running many years so it’s not like I’m a beginner. I am 49 – maybe I need to be more realistic about how far I can run?

    1. Very well said. I am sorry to hear you might have to miss running. However, take care of your knees because they have to hold up 75% of your body weight everyday.

  3. Over the past weekend I walked the entire 60 miles for the Susan G Komen 3-day. On day 2 I developed severe pain in the back of my leg aka leg pit. The pain traveled slightly to the inside of my leg. The PT’s there wrapped my knee tightly and the pain subsided even though the pull was still kind of there. When no wrap is in place I am still getting the pulling sensation and uncomfortable feeling. When I am in the position where I sit on my knees the pain is terrible. I am wondering if this is popliteus tendinitis or something else????

    1. Congratulations. 60 miles is no small feat. It’s an amazing feeling. However, it’s a lot of work on the knees. Did you try RICE? I would try that first. If it doesn’t help then go to your orthopedic doctor.

  4. As I was buckling my son in his car seat in the back seat of my truck today, the wind caught the driver door and the bottom corner of it smashed right into the back of my knee. I have a very high pain tolerance but it about made me cry and I could not put any weight on it. Now I cannot fully extend my leg or fully bend it without it hurting super bad. Any advice?

  5. I have a problem when I sit cross legged or snuggle on the couch with my knees tucked in. When I go to straigthen them they are really stiff and have to do it really slowly. When I bend my knees tightly i can feel the tightness. I am not sure what it is or what i can do to relieve the pain. I massaged it the other day and it felt like i had knots underneath. any advise

  6. I have pain behind my knee and you can feel a large lump like a muscle spasm behind the knee. Several years ago I got in a car and twisted my foot and knee while getting in. I screamed in pain and has hurt ever since. Not always the lump but for the past 6 mo or so. When I bend it feels like a muscle moves or snaps. Hard to explain. I also have a bad knee joint and just got the 3 injections of Euflexaa. I don’t run or walk but am on my feet about 5 hours for my job.
    Please give me some ideas to help. I am 65 years old.

    1. I wish I could say there was a magic pill but I can’t. The truth of the matter is that when we get older things take longer to heal (if at all). If I were you I would have it looked at by your local doctor or Orthopedist. If you don’t have insurance and can’t afford to go see a doctor then go into your local pharmacy and explain to them the situation. Usually pharmacists are great at giving certain advice. I hope this helps.

  7. I’ve had a severe pain just under the back of my knee and it’s in the left leg. Every time i get up from bed or from sitting in general and step on my left leg it feels that it’s going to tear. Similar feeling occurs if i stretch my left leg while sitting. Also, I only feel the pain when my leg is completely stretched (like at the end of a step) so I try to avoid it but when it does happen my mistake my leg gives way.
    Any advice?
    Anything at all would be really appreciated
    Thank you

    1. Have you thought about going to an orthopedic doctor yet? Or a physical therapist? I am assuming you already tried RICE and you still have pain. Would I be correct?

  8. I was walking down the stairs this morning with my daughter in the car seat which weighs quite a lot, and I felt something pop behind my knee but above my calf. It has been hurting since. I have taken Aleve for it and have put the Icy Hot on it every two hours and have a knee brace on for support. How long will it take for it to get better. I walked 2.5 miles on Saturday and before that I felt a few spasms in that area. Was it ready to give out?

  9. I’ve been having the worst pain ever. A year and a half ago my knee got smashed between two cars when the driver backed up. the pain was horrendous!!! i used a cane to keep from placing too much weight. but now the pain came back and its worse. the pain crept up to my back and my right hip locks in (ribcage-to-hip) its excrutiating! i can hardly walk. i cant sit without pain i cant lay without pain. i dont know if i should lift my legs or not. its hard to do!

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