The popliteal muscle is a small muscle that originates from the back of the tibia and inserts onto the lower part of the femur. Because it crosses the back of the knee joint, the popliteal muscle helps in flexing the lower leg to the back of the thigh and internally rotates the tibia. This muscle is sometimes called the key to knee flexion. When your leg is straight at the knee, it is the popliteal muscle that unlocks the knee by laterally rotating the femur on the tibia. This muscle is vulnerable to sprain during activities that require planting your feet and twisting your body, such as basketball, football, and soccer. After injury, there are several specific exercises that help regain strength and function in the popliteal muscle.
Reverse Heel Tap
Using a resistance band, attach one end to a low, stable surface like a table leg. Attach the other end to your foot by wrapping the handle around your forefoot. Stand up straight with your feet together. Hold on to a wall or other stable surface if necessary. Flex your leg at the knee and bring your foot behind your opposite leg. Attempt to touch your opposite hip with your heel. This not only flexes the knee, but it also internally rotates the tibia, effectively working the popliteal muscle. Return to the starting position and repeat for 15 to 20 repetitions.
This exercise will help retrain the popliteal muscle to properly stabilize the knee joint. Using a sturdy box or small raised platform like an aerobics step, place one foot on the top. Keeping your leg slightly bent at the knee, step forward with your other leg. Next, step backwards, then to the right and left of your foot planted on the step. Keeping one foot planted while stepping with the other in multiple directions will build functional strength in the muscle. Repeat this motion for 20 to 25 repetitions.
Attach one end of a resistance band to the bottom of a closed door or other stable surface at floor level. Loop the other end around your ankle. Lie on your stomach with your feet toward the attachment point of the band. Lift your heel up and toward your glutes. The farther away from the door you are, the more resistance you will feel in the back of your leg. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat for 20 to 25 repetitions.
This exercise trains multiple muscles of the lower body. The popliteal muscle must be able to contract synergistically with the muscles that surround it. Ball squats re-train the popliteal muscle to work in conjunction with the hamstrings and quadriceps. Place a large fitness ball against a wall. Turn away from the ball, placing it in the small of your back so that you are pressing the ball against the wall using only your back. Hold your feet two to three feet away from the base of the wall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Place both hands on your hips and slowly sit down as if you were sitting in a chair. Let the ball roll up to the middle of your back as you squat down. Make sure your knees stay behind your toes throughout the exercise. Once your thighs are parallel with the floor, press upward and return to the starting position. Repeat for 15 to 20 repetitions.