Yoga Tune Up® Blog

How To Get The Pop In Your Popliteus

By: | Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Comments 16

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 Yoga Tune Up® 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.

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With these great excercises you’ll be hopping, jiving and twisting again, just like you did last summer! Enjoy!

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Watch more free Yoga Tune Up® Quickfix Videos Here.

Read more about the popliteus.

Discover exercises for your knees.


About This Author

Giancarla is a lover of sound, breath and movement. She began teaching in 2008 after the completion of her 200hr with Om Yoga®. Since then she has studied at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition® as a Holistic Health Coach, completed her 300hr with Laughing Lotus Yoga School®, studied with Relax and Renew®'s Restorative Guru Judith Lasater, gotten her Anatomy Geek and Therapeutics on with Yoga Tune Up®'s Jill Miller, traveled to India with the luminous Raghuanath Cappo, chanted with His Divine Grace Radhanath Swami, and has toured with some of her favorite bands as a wellness coach and tour manager. Her classes are sweaty, fun, alignment and movement based with inspiring music, mudras, meditations and positive affirmations. Her mission is to inspire you to stay true to yourself and your own divine body; to offer the space to cultivate health, wellness, understanding, and a love for human connection and sustainable movement.

16 Responses to “How To Get The Pop In Your Popliteus”

  1. Cait says:

    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.

  2. Marah says:

    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.

  3. Kim says:

    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.

  4. Andrea says:

    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.

  5. [...] Tune Up® Blog « For Stiff Ankles, Try Some Pin And Spin How To Get The Pop In Your Popliteus [...]

  6. Paula B says:

    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…

  7. Kristin says:

    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 :-)

  8. Yvonne Duke says:

    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,

  9. Gary Carlisle says:

    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.
    Good post.

  10. Geoff Brown says:

    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.

  11. Katelyn says:

    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 :)

  12. Lisa Swanson says:

    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?

  13. Cynthia Bunt-Gardner says:

    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”.

  14. Kate Krumsiek says:

    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!

  15. Helen McAvoy says:

    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!!!

  16. Clare Chura says:

    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.

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After studying yoga, movement, and the human body for over twenty years, I created Yoga Tune Up® as a simple way to restore my body and mind, keeping me balanced and free of pain. Using a specific and unique set of poses, movements and self massage tools, you too can LIVE BETTER IN YOUR BODY WITH YOGA TUNE UP®.


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