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Popliteus Muscle

Popliteus Muscle is a thin, triangular muscle that forms the inferior part of the floor of the popliteal fossa.

Popliteus Muscle Anatomy

Proximally, its tendinous attachment to the lateral aspect of the lateral femoral condyle and its broader attachment to the lateral meniscus occur between the fibrous layer and the synovial membrane of the joint capsule of the knee. The apex of its fleshy belly emerges from the joint capsule of the knee joint. It has a fleshy distal attachment to the tibia that is covered by investing fascia reinforced by a fibrous expansion from the semimembranosus muscle.

Popliteus Muscle anatomy

Origin

The popliteus muscle originates from the anterior part of the popliteal groove on lateral surface of lateral femoral condyle.

Insertion

Popliteus Muscle inserts onto posterior surface of tibia in a fan-like fashion, just superior to the popliteal line.

Innervation

The popliteus muscle is innervated by the tibial nerve (L4, L5, S1) (L4, L5, S1).

Blood Supply

It’s supplied by the medial inferior genicular branch of popliteal artery and muscular branch of posterior tibial artery.

Action

Internally rotates tibia relative to femur and unlocks knee during knee flexion initiation.

The popliteus muscle is insignificant as a flexor of the knee joint; but during flexion at the knee, it assists in pulling the lateral meniscus of the knee joint posteriorly, a movement otherwise produced passively by compression (as it is for the medial meniscus). When a person is standing with the knee partly flexed, the popliteus contracts to assist the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in preventing anterior displacement of the femur on the inclined tibial plateau.

OriginAnterior part of the popliteal groove on lateral surface of lateral femoral condyle
InsertionPosterior surface of tibia in a fan-like fashion, just superior to the popliteal line
InnervationTibial nerve (L4, L5, S1) (L4, L5, S1)
Blood SupplyMedial inferior genicular branch of popliteal artery and muscular branch of posterior tibial artery
ActionInternally rotates tibia relative to femur and unlocks knee during knee flexion initiation
See Also: Popliteus Tendinitis
Popliteus

Popliteus Pain

The popliteus muscle can commonly be involved in posterolateral corner injuries of the knee. These injuries typically occur secondary to a varus force or direct blow to the knee (from medial to lateral). Diagnostic imaging of choice is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for evaluation and dysfunction. MRI can also point to other related issues within the knee. An iatrogenic popliteal injury may result in a future poor functional outcome and is critical to address, particularly following knee reconstruction surgery. Patients with anatomically smaller knees may also be at increased risk for popliteal injury.

Popliteus tendinopathy is a condition presenting as posterolateral knee pain that can be difficult to diagnose due to other more common knee pain etiologies in the vicinity. The popliteus inhibits excessive tibial rotation and prevents significant anterior translation of the knee. This mechanism can be pathologically overcome secondary to excessive sprinting or running downhill. Clinicians should advise patients to avoid terrain that has exacerbated their symptoms. They may re-introduce physical activity by running on flat surfaces such as a treadmill, but those who have a more difficult popliteal pain recovery may benefit from a course of physical therapy or a home exercise program.

Popliteal pain treatment include NSAID medication or cryotherapy, which could be beneficial during the recovery phase. Lunge exercises also have been shown to improve stabilization of the knee, and the patient may increase weight resistance as pain allows. It is important to gradually increase the workload on the lower extremity to avoid re-injury or exacerbation that may lead to a chronic problem.

Popliteus Bursa

The popliteus bursa lies deep to the popliteus tendon. When standing with the knees locked in the fully extended position, the popliteus acts to rotate the femur laterally 5° on the tibial plateaus, releasing the knee from its close-packed or locked position so that flexion can occur. When the foot is off the ground and the knee is flexed, the popliteus can aid the medial hamstrings (the “semi-muscles”) in rotating the tibia medially beneath the femoral condyles.

References & More

  1. Clinically Oriented Anatomy – 8th Edition
  2. Nyland J, Lachman N, Kocabey Y, Brosky J, Altun R, Caborn D. Anatomy, function, and rehabilitation of the popliteus musculotendinous complex. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2005 Mar;35(3):165-79. [PubMed]
  3. Hyland S, Varacallo M. Anatomy, Bony Pelvis and Lower Limb: Popliteus Muscle. [Updated 2023 Jun 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526084/

Last Reviewed
December 29, 2023
Contributed by
OrthoFixar

Orthofixar does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice.

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