Experiencing pain behind your knee while running can be a symptom of a more serious problem, such as tendinitis or a Baker's cyst. If you feel such pain, immediately stop running to prevent further injury. Treatment includes ice, compression and elevation of your knee. Contact your doctor if pain persists.
Your calf, popliteal and hamstring tendons are behind your knee and directly above your calf. Over-training, increasing your running mileage too quickly and running at a faster pace can cause tendinitis, or inflammation of these tendons. Tight muscles can also contribute to tendinitis. Symptoms include pain, swelling over the affected tendon and knee stiffness. If tendinitis is ignored, it can lead to small tears in your calf, popliteal or hamstring tendons. This can further weaken the affected tendon, increasing your risk of a complete rupture.
Popliteal Muscle Strain
Your popliteal muscle is a small muscle behind your knee and directly above your calf. An article published in 2004 in "The Physician and Sportsmedicine" journal reports that strenuous activities, such as downhill running, can cause this muscle to tear unexpectedly. Symptoms include pain and pressure behind your knee, muscle weakness and swelling. Running and other high-impact activities are likely to aggravate your symptoms.
In and around your knee joint, you have synovial fluid and bursa sacs to help keep your knee moving smoothly. A Baker's cyst, or popliteal cyst, is when you develop an excessive amount of synovial fluid in the bursa sac behind your knee. Symptoms include joint stiffness, swelling and pain. Also, you may develop a noticeable bulge on the back of your knee.
Additional causes of pain behind your knee and above your calf include a meniscus tear, knee arthritis, nerve impingement and artery entrapment. A meniscus tear is when the cartilage of your knee is torn, and arthritis is when it wears away. With a meniscus tear and arthritis, you may also experience grinding of your knee with movement. Nerve impingement and artery entrapment are when nerves or blood vessels behind your knee are compressed. Besides knee pain, compressed nerves or arteries can lead to numbness and muscle weakness in your knee and calf.
To reduce the pain behind your knee, stop running, ice the affected area, wear a compression wrap and elevate your knee. Take pain medications, such as acetaminophen, if pain persists. Stretching may also help alleviate pain associated with tendinitis and nerve entrapment. Other treatments your doctor may recommend include corticosteroid injections, massage therapy, physical therapy and surgery. Additionally, a severe Baker's cyst may need to be drained if it does not respond to non-surgical treatments.
Stretch before and after running to maintain normal flexibility in your leg muscles. To avoid knee injuries and over-training, increase your running mileage no more than 10 percent each week. Additional preventive measures include wearing a knee brace, running on flat terrain and strengthening your leg muscles.
Is This an Emergency?
- “The Physician and Sportsmedicine”; Posterior Knee Pain and Its Causes; Julie A. Muche, M.D., et al.; March 2004
- “Radiographics”; Popliteal Artery Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment; Lonnie B. Wright, M.D., et al.; 2004
- “International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy”; The Role and Implementation of Eccentric Training in Athletic Rehabilitation: Tendinopathy, Hamstring Strains, and ACL Reconstruction; Daniel Lorenz, D.P.T., P.T., A.T.C., et al.; March 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Tendinitis; March 7, 2010