Todd Kuslikis

Todd Kuslikis

Knee Pain Specialist and Injury Prevention Expert

Popliteus Pain: 2-Minute Massage To Relieve Pain In The Back Of The Knee

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

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? 

Written By: Coach Todd and originally posted on


Popliteus pain strikes the back of your knee and you scream for mercy. It traps your nerves in a head lock and doesn’t let go. 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 stretches and exercises to help reduce pain behind the knee into your daily routine. 


4 Symptoms of Popliteus Pain In The Knee

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

Feel Good Life - Coach Todd

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. 


Feel Good Life - Coach Todd


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


Feel Good Life - Coach Todd

Pain when straightening the knee fully

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


Feel Good Life - Coach ToddPain is usually worse when walking downhill, downstairs or walking quickly

The popliteus stabilizes the knee. So difficult movements like walking downhill or going downstairs 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

Feel Good Life - Coach ToddSit 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: 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 get deep. 

Feel Good Life - Coach ToddFind the edge of your shin bone. 

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

Feel Good Life - Coach ToddGo 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. 

Popliteus Massage Instructions: 

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. 

Feel Good Life - Coach Todd

The first step is figuring out the root cause of your pain. See your PT or doctor.

Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin the right rehab program in conjunction with using this massage technique. 

Here are some helpful resources for knee pain:

    1. If you have knee arthritis, here’s a great list of knee exercises you can perform from bed
    2. If you have a Baker’s Cyst in your knee, here’s another guide to help relieve pain in the back of the knee
    3. If you have a knee meniscus tear, here’s a guide to help relieve meniscus knee pain

Feel Good Life - Coach ToddYou may also want to consider wearing a knee brace during times of high activity or when you will be on your feet for long periods of time. The brace will help provide stability for your knee. 

Feel Good Life - Coach Todd

Use ice or heat

    1. Use an ice pack if you’ve had pain for less than 2 weeks.
    2. Use 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 bodies’ way of communicating with you. So 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. 

To your health! 


More to Explore

2 Responses

  1. I appreciated all the information in this article, especially the one that talked about riding a stationary bike. I ride it almost every day and it's good to know how to do it right.!

    1. Thank you! That's awesome that you ride a stationary bike almost every day. I'm happy to know you will be doing it right going forward!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *