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926 Views 2 Replies Latest reply: Mar 7, 2013 8:32 AM by edensacres
edensacres Pro 197 posts since
Jun 19, 2010
Currently Being Moderated

Mar 2, 2013 10:03 AM

Popliteus problems

What a cool word, popliteus, but its becoming a nagging pain.  I am just starting to increase my mileage for my first half in early May.   I run three times a week.  This week it was 4 (easy) 4 (tempo) and 7 LSR.   This is the first time I have moved past the 10k mark.  I still have full extension, although locking my knee does hurt.  If I try to squat, again it goes from an ache to painful.  I cut out my cross training yoga workouts, and replaced it with a short 20 minute core work out, in hopes of giving it a bit of a break. 


My questions, if you are familiar with popliteus problems, are: 1)  Can I continue to train as planned with 3 runs a week (this week its 4/4/8, followed a planned step down due to vacation 4/4/5, then 4/4/9), or do I need to take a run, a week or more off.  2) Also I'm interested in any streching that has worked for you 3) has or would any taping (KT, Kinesio, Acti, etc) help?  Unfortunately, I live in a very rural area and we do not have any sports med docs around to run to for advice.


Thanks a lot & happy running!


Started C25K 3/29/11 for the third time - Graduated 7/1/11 - some of us take longer

Completed Races

Webster Co. Woodchopping Festival 5K (5/28/11) 38:03 "Holy crap! Did he just say 38 something? I was hopinig for 45 minutes"

Never underestimate yourself!

That Dam Race 5K 7/23/11 44:46 - a challenging route & a hot day- but I will do better next year!

"Run for the Ta-Ta's 5K 10/29/11 39:54 in the snow!

Woodchoppers 5K 5/26/12 36:08 My 5 year old was 5 minutes behind me. Way to go Liat!

Fly By 10k 6/16/12 1:24:12

And the dream race...

"Flying Pig Half Marathon" Cincinnati, OH (May 2013)

  • JamesJohnsonLMT Legend 1,291 posts since
    Aug 23, 2009
    Currently Being Moderated
    1. Mar 4, 2013 3:57 PM (in response to edensacres)
    Re: Popliteus problems

    I always bring up Popliteus when people talk about Baker's Cyst, etc., because muscular problems are often overlooked. In this case, I want to make sure you do not ignore any other possible cause for this pain. If you enjoy yoga, you may have joints that are somewhat hypermobile, which could pose a problem for a runner. Before I get to that, some advice:


    Avoid yoga for a while, since many poses are stressful for Popliteus and other muscles, let alone joints and ligaments. There are benefits to stretching under certain circumstances, but it is not the panacea often sought in the the athletic world. In cases like yours, a stretch is the last thing you need for Popliteus. You suffer from too much extension of the leg, if your Popliteus is strained and painful. If it is being used too much to unlock the knee, or to prevent over-extension, any prolonged over-extension is your enemy right now, no matter how benign the movement may seem to be. The only "stretch" that appears to be helpful is knee extension with the tibia internally rotated, which means to gently point the toes toward each other while extending the leg. With this movement, you are simply moving through range of motion while simultaneously reducing the load on the Popliteus muscle.


    Some work to release tight hamstrings, including foam rolling, may help Popliteus more than a direct stretch, by reducing its workload, which you will see below.


    As yoga has taught you, be especially aware of any posture during the day that may tire Popliteus. Prolonged standing, and certain types of chairs, particularly if you have short thighs, may reduce circulation in the muscle and result in contracture or spasm. The muscle is meant for intermittent use throughout its range, and like most skeletal muscle, does not respond well to constant contraction, pressure, or restricted movement.


    If you continue to run, some attention to the type of running you do is important. Long strides/hyper-extension is of course something to avoid, which means a reduction in speed. You may have observed that leg turnover remains fairly constant during most speeds of running, because gravity is a constant. What changes mostly between speeds is stride length. On the other hand, a reduction in stride length means an increase in the number of strides per mile, which means you should train for time rather than distance, as many training methods suggest. It is not fair to ask a 38-minute 5k runner to run the same number of miles as a 19-minute 5k runner, who will accomplish the same task with half as many strides. Why should you do twice as much work as a standout runner?


    Regarding Kinesio, you can probably bring up some vids on youtube for popliteus (this one's in Spanish)...



    I am happy to see that kinetic tape is now available 24 hours a day at many pharmacies including Walmart, generally found with other medical taping systems. It is inexpensive therapy for many, but you need to bone up on how to use it correctly. Where and when the tape is stretched or left slack is very important to its function. If in doubt, consult an expert. It is useful in cases where subtle movement of the skin over an injury can improve lymphatic flow, which normally has no active circulation mechanism other than movement.


    As a general rule, muscles compensate for weakness or laxity in ligaments, tendons, joint cartilage, and for weakness or tightness in related or opposing muscle groups. The article below points out a common interaction between a tight outer hamstring and the Popliteus for maintaining joint stability at certain degrees of flexion, and during certain movements. I would suspect that if your joints are hypermobile, your hamstrings are tight from over-training, or if your running form incorporates common faults such as excess pronation, the Popliteus muscle is working overtime to compensate. You need to address these potential problems before plunging into remedial work, because benefits are of little value without eliminating causes of dysfunction.


    Passive interventions are not the only way to address a tight Popliteus. Manual therapy to release tension in the muscle can be helpful, but must be done correctly. In the link below, is a video I embed separately in which a Chiropractor demonstrates a simple technique for releasing the Popliteus...



    Always be careful working in this vulnerable area, because there are exposed nerves and arteries that can be adversely affected by inappropriate pressure. Experiment elsewhere first, so you can know what muscle feels like before applying force.


    You will see from the following article how important general knee stability is to Popliteus function. If necessary, ignore the acronyms and read between the lines to find movements and postures that can lead to overworking this muscle, even when you are not training. Old injuries can also play a role in recent compensation-related injuries.


    Some detailed discussion of the role and function of the Popliteus in the following PDF file (adobe reader required), with clues on what conditions, positions, movements engage this muscle, and the importance of joint stability to determining how large a role it must play in maintaining stability during activity and at rest.

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