The popliteus is a relatively small but very important muscle for knee joint stability. It runs diagonally across the back of your knee, helping to stabilize and prevent you from hyperextending. This is the only muscle to run diagonally across the knee joint to help stabilize it. Therefore, since it doesn’t really have a counter balance, it’s very important to keep this muscle healthy and working optimally.
The popliteus originates on the lateral condyle of the femur. A condyle is the rounded bump at the end of a bone. In this case, it’s the bump at the bottom of your thigh bone that’s further away from the midline of the body.
The popliteus inserts on the posterior surface of tibia above soleal line, which is a specific line on the back of the tibia. Everyone has a soleal line, so it serves as an appropriate anatomical landmark.
According to my Flash Anatomy Muscle Flash Cards, the popliteus has several functions. It:
- “rotates the tibia medially on the femur or the femur laterally on the tibia, depending on the one fixed.
- withdraws the meniscus during flexion, and provides rotatory stability to the femur on the tibia.
- brings the knee out of the position of full extension.
- helps with posterior stability of the knee.”
To summarize, the popliteus is responsible for the stability of your knee joint. Sure, there are other muscles that cross the joint and provide stability in their way, but the popliteus is the only one that runs at a diagonal. This diagonal line is essential for joint stability.
When the popliteus is injured or not firing, you will notice hyperextension of the knee joint. To tell if your knees are hyperextended, wear some shorts and stand up. Let yourself relax for a minute so that you can get an accurate self-assessment. Take a look down at your knees. If your knee caps sink into your leg so that the fronts of your legs are smooth all the way down, you are hyperextending your knees. However, when you look down, if you see your knee caps sitting on top of your knee joint, your legs are not hyperextended.
Restoring or Maintaining Health
Keep in mind that, just like all muscles, the popliteus can be seriously damaged. If you are in pain, it is best to go to your doctor. Your doctor can order imaging, medicine, and therapy to correctly treat your injury.
With an injured popliteus, self-rehabilitation can be a little tricky. The best thing to do to help yourself heal is to put a little extra bend in your knees. Maybe you’re bending past neutral and into flexion, but since extension is what you want to avoid, that should be okay. Just make sure that when you glance down at your knees, you can see your knee caps sitting on the tops of your legs.
If you’re looking for a specific exercise to help you heal, I recommend you practice Malasana. Yes, lowering down into a squat will be therapeutic. However, you should focus on engaging the correct muscles to help you lift into a perfect neutral position without hyperextended knees.
I consulted my Flash Anatomy Muscles Flash Cards. If you really enjoy anatomy and want a tool to help you locate specific muscles correctly, I highly recommend these flash cards. I turn to them any time a client comes in with pain.
Here’s a link to buy them on Amazon. If you purchase them from this link, I earn a small commission.
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If you tend to hyperextend your knees, what other exercises do you do to strengthen your popliteus? Let us know in the comments below.