Popliteus Tendinopathy

Are you a runner training for a marathon and hurt yourself running on the hills? Are you a baseball catcher whose knee hurts after you stood up after a long day of practice? Don’t try to tough it out, there is a chance that you could have injured your popliteus!

The popliteus is a small muscle which is located at the back of your knee. The muscle runs from the lateral femoral condyle of the femur to the posterior surface of the tibia. It is involved in unlocking the knee from a fully straightened position, which is important for everyday activities such as walking. It is also very important for stability around the knee and controlling the shearing forces around the knee. In those who often run downhill or those who crouch a lot in their everyday lives, popliteal tendinopathy can occur.

The popliteal tendon can be injured during acute trauma. The associated pain is described as a deep ache or sharp pain worsened by performing downhill activities. Other common symptoms are pain with straightening of the knee, pain while bending the knee from a fully straightened position, weakness in the knee, clicking, and feeling like the knee is giving way when weight bearing.

There are some specific tests aimed to isolate and diagnose issues with the popliteus. The primary function of the popliteus is tibial internal rotation; therefore, symptomatic patients experience pain with resisted internal rotation (Garrick's test) or passive external rotation of the tibia. Another test done is called the shoe removal maneuver, where the patient will internally rotate their injured leg, and attempt to take off the opposite shoe at the heel.

Treatment of popliteal tendinopathy is physiotherapy for the majority of cases. Many patients with popliteal tendinitis start to feel better within a couple of weeks of treatment. The speed of recovery depends on a variety of factors such as age, previous activity level, treatment compliance and the degree/length of the injury. The goals of physiotherapy treatment include, but are not limited to: reducing pain and inflammation, restoring range of motion, strengthening the muscles around the knee and lower extremity, and reducing the chance of reinjury.
If you suspect that you, a family member, or a friend may have injured their popliteus, come see SSMI for an evaluation. We have a network of experienced providers who are experienced and will get you back to top form as quickly as possible.
Sources: UpToDate – Approach to Adult with Unspecified Knee Pain, UpToDate – Calf Injuries Not Involving the Achilles Tendon, physioworks.com.au – popliteus tendinitis