pain in the back of the knee

Do you suffer from pain in the back of the knee? One of the most common culprits is the popliteus muscle. This small, triangle shaped muscle lives just behind the knee. Every day, it helps stabilize and bend your knee. But what happens when this little bugger gets angry?

It traps your nerves in a head lock and doesn’t let go. Popliteus pain strikes the back of your knee and you scream for mercy. Uncle! Uncle!

Thankfully, a simple two-minute knee massage can help reduce the pain behind the knee and soothe the cries from the popliteus muscle.

Common Causes of Pain Behind the Knee

There are many causes of pain behind the knee including Baker’s cysts, osteoarthritis, and even meniscus tears. Massaging Mr. Pop Liteus isn’t necessarily the final answer. It’s designed to give you some relief. From my experience, 9 times out of 10, this little muscle is running a-muck behind your knee and causing pain.

But it’s a good idea to visit your primary care physician or PT to understand exactly what’s going on inside your knee. In the meantime, you can relieve some of the pain with the 2-minute popliteus massage below.

But don’t forget to include into your daily routine stretches and exercises to help reduce pain behind the knee.

4 Symptoms of Popliteus Pain in the Knee

How can you tell if your pain is from the popliteus muscle? There are four symptoms.

Pain in the Back of the Knee

This one is fairly obvious but sometimes the location of pain isn’t always the cause of pain. But pain behind the knee often points to an angry popliteus.


Does the back of your knee feel swollen? It could be the popliteus muscle.

Pain When Straightening the Knee Fully

Remember, Mr. Pop helps bend the knee. As a result, straightening your knee can make him feel extra annoyed.

Pain Is Usually Worse When Walking Downhill, Down Stairs, or Walking Quickly

The popliteus stabilizes the knee. Thus, difficult movements like walking downhill or going down stairs makes him work harder.

Still not sure if your pain is from the popliteus? Ok, here’s a simple test.

Seated Test to Tell If the Popliteus Muscle Is Contributing to Your Knee Pain

Step 1: Sit in a Chair with Your Feet Flat on the Ground

Let’s say you have pain behind your left knee. Lift it up and cross your left ankle over your right knee. This can be hard for anyone over 60 so be careful and move slowly.

Important Tip: The popliteus muscle is deep behind the knee. So, if your muscles are tense, in order for you to keep your leg in this position, you won’t find the popliteus. Here’s a simple trick. Get another chair and place it in front of you. Instead of placing your left ankle over your right knee, place it on the chair in front of you. This will likely be easier.

Another option is to perform this test on the couch. Turn your body to the left and bend your left knee so it’s at a 90 degree angle and resting on the couch. Keep your leg muscles relaxed and resting on the couch so you can touch deep.

Step 2: Find the Edge of Your Shin Bone

Let your fingers walk up toward your knee following the shin bone. If you were Dorothy, the shin bone is your yellow brick road. It will lead you to the wonderful Popliteus of Oz.

Step 3: Go Deep When Your Shin Bone Angles Back

Eventually, your shin bone will start to angle backward when it almost gets to the knee. You have now found Mr. Pop’s house! It will likely be tender so knock on his door softly.

He will likely be angry when he answers the door. So it’s time to give him a much needed massage. Maybe a cup of herbal tea could help too.

Easy “Popliteus Massage” to Relieve Pain in the Back of the Knee

Now that you are inside Mr. Pop’s house. Here is a simple massage technique to help relieve the pain. Studies have shown massage as an effective treatment for reducing pain and muscle tension.

Begin with your thumbs in the position above. With both thumbs, use a rhythmic movement to massage deep into the area. You can massage in any of the following ways:

  1. Clockwise circle
  2. Counterclockwise circle
  3. Back and forth
  4. Side to side

Do this for 2 minutes. The pain behind the knee will likely ease up.

Pain Relief Pro Tip: Start your popliteus massage with a gentle touch. You don’t need to swan dive into the deep end. Allow the muscle to relax a bit. Then slowly go deeper. Use pain as a guide. If it’s too painful, back off. As the pain decreases, go a little bit deeper.

Additional Tips for Reducing Pain in the Back of the Knee

This 2-minute massage can decrease pain behind the knee. But you should also make sure it doesn’t come back.

  1. The first step is figuring out the root cause of your pain. See your PT or doctor to help you determine why you have pain in the first place.
  2. Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin the right rehab program in conjunction with using this massage technique. For instance, you can do these knee arthritis exercises, or use this guide to help relieve meniscus knee pain. Or, if you have a Baker’s Cyst in your knee, here’s a guide to help relieve pain in the back of the knee.
  3. You may also want to consider wearing a knee brace during times of high activity or when you will be on your feet for longer periods of time. The brace will help provide stability for your knee.
  4. Finally, you can use an ice pack if you’ve had pain for less than 2 weeks, or apply heat if you’ve had pain longer than 2 weeks.

These techniques should help reduce your pain behind your knee. Remember that pain is always a signal that something is wrong. It’s your body’s way of communicating with you.

Don’t ignore the pain behind your knee and hope it will vanish. Visit Mr. Pop often and give him the much needed care so your knees will stay healthy for years to come.

How often do you experience pain in the back of your knee? What do you do about it? Have you received a diagnosis? Does massage help relieve your pain? Please share which pain relief method has helped you the most.