Who put the pop in your popliteus? Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong? Well, whoever it was, we are about to get it back. In my last article we discovered a very intricate muscle called the popliteus that originates from the outside of the bottom of the thigh, lateral femur, and fans out the the inside of the lower leg bone, the tibia.
This muscle has the very important function of keeping the femur connected to the tibia when in flexion and also controlling medial rotation. If the popliteus is not functioning correctly, or it is weak, it can manifest as general knee or cartilage pain. Because the popliteus holds the two bones together it controls the smoothness of the patella tractioning directly over the joint. If the tibia is not in alignment with the femur it can pull the patella off to the lateral side causing issues such as patellar tendonitis, which is felt behind the knee.
The popliteus will draw the patellar tendon into alignment by rotating the tibial tuberosity to line up with the femur bone. This is why strengthening the popliteus is important for the health of your knee joint and its many functions.
How to strengthen your popliteus?
Try these knee strengthening yoga poses to target the muscle and help you get back on the dance floor!
Sqaut with Arms Up: work towards parallel feet and keep the knee tracking over the ankles. You can activate the muscle by trying to energetically screw drive the heels laterally away from each other.
Shin Jive: focus on the internal rotation of the shin to activate the popliteus muscle as you shin jive your way to better knee health.
Splat Frog with Internal Rotation: this pose focuses deeply on the internal rotation of the hip, but with the knee bent there is also opportunity to work the external rotation in the knee to strengthen the popliteus and its control over the patellar tendon alignment.
Prasarita Lunges: use the pushing of the opposite heel away from you to sway your body from side to side. This action of the foot highlights the energetic medial rotation of the active leg and fire up and strengthen the popliteus.
With these great Popliteus muscle excercises, you’ll be hopping, jiving and twisting again, just like you did last summer! Enjoy!
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Read more about the popliteus.
Article très intéressant pour connaitre le poplité et surtout magique de savoir qu’on peut le renforcer sur un rock entrainant tout en musique! Merci
Thank you for educating me about the popliteus muscle and great examples of how to keep my knees in shape.
Before reading this and before my Yoga Tune Up Training, I hadn’t focused on the popliteus or any such muscle that is very deep to other largers ones as being an important part of knee function –so this was a big AHaaaaa moment for me. Many of my students have asked me about this behind the knee pain or a cramping or locking sensation and this could be the “key” so to speak! Strengthen the popliteus! And yay for such a great name.
Nice highlight of a small but important muscle! The cue to screw drive the heels away from each other in the squat is a great one!
The popliteus exercises are eye opening for me. From my misunderstanding the anatomy & physiology of the knee, I thought the knee flexion and medial rotation is no good for the knee health. Thank you for the information and appreciate yoga tuneup provide a learning platform for us.
I’ve been dealing with pain in the back of my knee for some time now and was so happy to find your post on the Popliteus muscle. I’m going to add these YTU poses to my daily routine. Thanks for the helpful information!
Fun and informative post to read. I had no clue about the popliteus. It is a cool little muscle and as I have heard many people complain about the back of their knee hurting who have tight hamstrings…so now I can suggest something that might help. It was great to learn something as straightforward as Shin Jive while focusing on the internal rotation of the shin can strengthen the popliteus. And the references and videos made it a fun read.
Thank you for providing four specific Yoga Tune Up® poses that target the popliteus. I love that by changing our awareness and the focus of the movement that is already happening in the body during a Yoga Tune Up® pose can help us engage different muscles that we might recruit immediately. For example, I love that squatting while “trying to energetically screw drive the heels laterally away from each other” helps us to locate and engage this small, unknown muscle. Thanks for the tips!
This is an awesome article on the popliteus. I wasn’t aware of its action on the patellar tendon, and now I have an additional reason besides the great glut work I get doing the Prasarita Lunges! Love this exercise!
Great article on of the unsung heroes of knee stability. Many issues can arise from instability here, as you alluded to, not only pain and discomfort, but the like if align can cause arthritis and other bone problems. I also like bands to strengthen this muscle.
Really thoughtful selection of poses for knee health, Giancarala. I was just talking about how I think the knee is not the cleverest joint because it’s a hinge and so prone to funky alignment issues, like a misbehaved puppy you always have to keep an eye on. But you have vindicated the knee joint for me, and given me some great tools to use. Maybe next time I jog across the street to beat the light I won’t feel that annoying twinging in my knee caps because I’ll have a smarter, stronger popliteus.
I have been having some knee issues lately, but cannot figure out why. Thanks for the info! Will definitely try and implement these poses and see if it helps in alleviating the pain.
Thank you for teaching me about some benefits of strengthening the popliteus.
I appreciate this informative article about knee health and plan to incorporate the exercises into my practice regularly. I sometimes experience knee tenderness/noisiness when walking, and I want to take a proactive approach to keeping my knees healthy as I age.
Thanks for the entertaining and informative post! You are right this muscle does not get much attention but plays such an important role in knee health – as well as impacting up and down the chain from the knee! Thanks for putting a new twist on this muscle and how it’s function may be improved!
Love the way you put the pop, into the knee for dancing! Cute, let’s do the twist now, and just dance!
I am so happy to read this today! I have been healing my left knee and love the recommended YTU poses. I definitely noticed during the training that my knee has taken another step in recovery and I’m going to play with these poses specifically to make some more headway. Thank you!
Never heard of that muscle before reading this article. So many people I know with pain and tenderness in the back of the knee. Internal rotation of the shin isn’t a very common movement pattern but knee flexion is. Regardless, excited to now be aware of movement patterns to help strengthening and stabilize the knee joint.
As someone that has to be mindful of hyperextension in my knee joint, I found a tonne of useful information in this post. Love the language and the clear anatomical focus.
Such a great article to come across!! I have a long history of lateral mesiscusI experience problems, waiting on my second surgery now, since my last one five years ago. I experience locking of the knee joint in flexion and for a long time since my unsuccessful surgery, I have questioned the nature of the popliteus, and its role in the locking of the joint. I am delighted to have found the exercises above as my
popliteus is surely weak, as I experience fatigue in that location so easily. Off to my mat I go- empowering myself through education and self care!!
I was trying to straighten my legs out from a half happy baby today (doing half happy baby mini vini – training day 1!), and I felt this awful popping in the posterior lateral portion of my knee. I do tend to have tight leg muscles, but I’ve never heard or felt anything pop so uncomfortably like that. Something about the position in this vini was tangling my muscles in a weird way…. I’m almost positive now that it was my darn popliteus being too tight and getting all mixed up with the other muscles! I’m so excited to try these poses and hopefully gain a better awareness of this muscles in my body.
I know you posted this awhile ago, but do you have any advice of poses that might help to stretch this muscle too? (usual leg stretching poses don’t tend to work for me because I have a hyper-mobile lower back and very long legs – it’s hard for me to get in the meat of the muscles!)
Hi! I found your article to be very interesting. It gives that tiny muscle the attention that it needs. I’m also excited to try the exercises that you suggested =)
Having recently injured my knee (unclear how exactly), this article got me thinking a bit differently about the root of the pain. I’ve been feeling a tightness in the back of my knee and experiencing swelling on the medial side. Interestingly, per the above, an unaligned femur can cause the patella to be pushed laterally. While I thought my focus was the medial side of the knee, perhaps I should be focusing on strengthening this muscle and see if it in turn eases the pain I’ve been experiencing on the medial side.
Interesting article on a musle I had never heard of before! I often feel sensitive in my knees and like Clara`s they tend to make a clicking noise when I go into flexion. I have been taught during my YTU training that clicking noises are a sign to step back and reduce the movement, which is hardly possible during knee flexion. I wonder if the described poses will be helpful, as they strengthen my Popliteus or whether I am facing a different condition? Any suggestions will be highly appreciated.
I just learned this dynamic pose in training today, and while I was terribly intimidated at the thought of maintaining a squat while moving, it actually felt pretty good. I didn’t realize I was also helping to stabilize my knee.
Thank you for explaining the significance of a very small, yet important muscle of he popliteus. It’s not addressed in most basic anatomy trainings I’ve attended, yet if weak, it can cause a lot of problems. Clearly understanding the function of the popliteus in keeping the femur connected to the tibia when in flexion and also controlling medial rotation and understanding how a weak popliteus can manifest as general knee or cartilage pain, or patellar tendonitis, felt behind the knee, highlights the importance of understanding complex joints. I also appreciate the recommendation on how to strengthen the popliteus through poses we already do in YTU: splat frog with internal rotation and prasarita lunges will definitely be part of my knee health repertoire.
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Wow, there is not enough of me to learn all of these incredible muscles that we rarely get to hear about… I love that you make reference of patellar tendonitis, explaining that it is felt in the back of the knee. One can certain get mislead by the name “patellar,” the knee cap.
Also appreciate the details on Squats with arms up. The energetics of the heel makes a lot of sense…
Popliteus has been on my mind lately as I’ve developed some new knee discomfort that doesn’t seem to fit the standard description of ligament issues. I do suspect repeated lotus-ing to be the culprit (and yes I knew the risks beforehand!) Needless to say I have turned to my Yoga Tune Up practice to get things back together. Also, I just enjoy a good shin jive 🙂
I never heard of popliteus until I took training from Amanda a few weeks ago. It is a name you cannot forget…just sounds regal. I enjoyed your article because it was packed with great information but I could totally relate to it once you mentioned the twist and the mashed potatoe…I got off my seat and “mashed”. This made me totally aware of the muscle. My students may not pay attention when I talk anatomy to them, but they will get it beause i can show them the mashed potatoe. Thank you,
Knee pain. I am now more aware of this muscle after reading your post.I have to squat with blankets or soft blocks behind my knees until my joints warms up. Now I will explore other muscles that are in this area, and become more aware about my knees.
Great post on a seldom heard muscle of the posterior knee. These exercises are great way of strengthening this deep muscle. I have felt like I have irritated this muscle in the past and it was always an itch that I could not scratch – so thank you for the 4 above suggestions. I have already felt the benefits of the Splat Frog with Internal Rotation and look forward to concentrating on this area more with the more frequent additions of Shin Jives and Prasarita Lunges to my practice.
I wonder how the Popliteus affect people with high kneecaps (like me). Maybe it has been contributing to my knee pain too! I will have to try some of these exercises 🙂
It’s amazing how a small muscle like the Popliteus could be a big offender of knee pain. I noticed watching Jill’s video that her legs (or feet) seemed slightly internally rotated. Even coming out of the pose. Is she firing up the Popliteus strength with that internal rotation and the lunging back and forth? And is the externally rotation in the hips or at the knee joint, one of Popliteus’s actions?
Great article highlighting the importance of our smaller muscles that we sometimes forget about. Your cue of “energetically screw driving the heels laterally away from each other” makes me automatically want to dance. Chubby Checker was famous for the twist but who knew Chubby Checkers was really the “Popliteus King”.
Great work, Giancarla! I love how you so deftly describe the impact of this muscle on the front of your knee – even though it lives on the back of your knee. Super effective way to remind us that we are three- dimensional beings that have to look at surrounding muscles and tissues for the sources of pain. Love the context too!
Love this Giancarla!!! Lets go dancing!!! This is a great article to educate all those Jazzercise students that come thru the door!!! 🙂 Keep the moves safe and strong!!!
While this is such a small muscle, it could be a major component to my knee pain! Thanks for posting, Giancarla. According to ‘Trail Guide to the Body,’ this muscle is essential in moving the knee from an extended to a flexed position (A.K.A. “the key which unlocks the knee”). I often have to extend my knees during deep lunges in yoga and yoga tune up because they begin to burn. My left knee, in particular, makes a popping noise as I bend and extend it. I wonder if it has to do with movement involving the popliteus.