I don’t know about anyone else, but personally, I think that the muscles of the legs are very strange. They just don’t have that “muscle” shape that you tend to think of when you think of a muscles. Popliteus is no exception. This weird little guy hangs out just below the popliteal space of the tibiofemoral joint (knee), and is the deepest muscle of the posterior knee. It is a weak muscle, but it is important in unlocking the knee from an extended position.


Identifying the Popliteus (Biel, 2005)




  • Origin*: The popliteus attaches at the lateral* epicondyle* of the femur.
  • Insertion*: This triangular muscle also attaches at the posterior* and proximal* aspect of the tibia.
  • Action: Popliteus is responsible for flexing the TF joint, and also causes rotation of the TF joint when flexed*.
  • Innervation: The popliteus is innervated by the tibial nerve, which is a branch of the sciatic nerve that innervates the muscles of the lower leg.


Causes of Injury or Tightness in the Popliteus (VSIC)

  • Significant force applied to the TF joint
  • Traffic accident
  • Impacts forcing knee into over extension*
  • Posterior cruciate ligament tears
  • ACL injuries
  • Overuse injuries (more common in runners)


Symptoms of Injury of Tightness in the Popliteus (The Wellness Digest)

  • Pain in the back of TF joint, especially when straightening leg
  • Inability to lock TF joint
  • Pain in back of TF joint when walking or running
  • Pain or discomfort in posterior TF joint when crouching down
  • Worsening pain when climbing stairs


Trigger Point* Referral for the Popliteus (Riehl, 2002)


popliteus tp


Trigger points develop in the popliteus for a number of reasons, but are more common in people who run or hike. Trigger points in this muscle refer pain to the back of the knee.


How to Relieve Stress from the Popliteus

It is important to note that using a knee brace usually makes pain in the popliteus worse, so it is not often advised that a knee brace be used. Treatment includes rest from aggravating activities, cryotherapy*, or gentle stretching. Massage therapy is always a great way to relieve pain from sore or achy muscles, so long as there are not injuries (such as a broken bone or inflammation) that would make massage inappropriate.



Epicondyle – Bony protuberance at the end of a long bone where muscles attach.

Extension – Movement that causes the joint to straighten

Flexion – Movement that causes the joint to bend

Insertion – The insertion of a muscle is the point at which the muscle attaches to a bone that is moved by that muscle. This point will be more distal (away from the core of the body) than the origin.

Lateral – Toward the side of the body / away from the mid line.

Origin – A muscle’s origin is the point at which the muscle attaches to a fixed, proximal (close to the core of the body) bone.

Posterior – Toward the back of the body

Proximal – Situated nearer to the center of the body

Trigger Point – An area of hyperactive tissue that sends excessive pain signals to the spine, which generally “confuses” the brain as to where the pain is coming from.




Biel, A. 2005. Trail Guide to the Body, Third Edition. Book of Discovery, Boulder, CO. Pp. 368

“Popliteus Injury.” [Internet]. Virtual Sports Injury Clinic. [Accessed 2017 Jul 24]. Available from: http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/sport-injuries/knee-pain/popliteus-injury

“Popliteus Muscle: Pain in the Knee.” The Wellness Digest. [Accessed 2017 Jul 24]. Available from: http://thewellnessdigest.com/popliteus-muscle-pain-in-the-back-of-the-knee/

Riehl, S., 2002. Neuromuscular Therapy & Advanced Deep Tissue. Real Bodywork, Santa Barbara, CA. Pp 75.



The Popliteus Muscle Viewed From Behind the Knee. The Daily Bandha. 2013.


About Tonya Sapiel, LMT

My goal with The Wellness Seeker blog is to educate the general public on the benefits of massage therapy, why it is an important addition to their health care routine, and what they can do to help themselves in between their massage therapy sessions. I welcome feedback and questions. I also accept requests for post topics. For more information about me or my practice, please visit www.tonyasapiel.massagetherapy.com

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