The popliteus is a muscle that runs from the lateral epicondyle of the femur to the posterior surface of the tibia. Because of its orientation, it internally rotates the tibia and externally rotates the femur. This action allows the knee to become “unlocked,” taking the knee from an extended (straight) position to a flexed (bent) one. The significance an injury to the popliteus is particularly relevant to serious runners and triathletes.
When the popliteus is tight, it can cause pain near the postero-lateral area of the knee. Here are a couple ways to help release this muscle through self-soft tissue mobilization.
The first is by using a lacrosse ball to release the popliteus. Contract your quadriceps in order for your heel to lift off the floor in order to focus the pressure on the posterior knee region. It is important to note that you CANNOT target just the popliteus and will be hitting other soft tissue structures such as the gastrocnemius and the soleus.
The second is by putting the lacrosse ball in the crux of your knee and taking your tibia through internal and external rotation. Work around and find the area that seems most restricted. There are a lot of neurovascular structures in this area and you should STOP if you feel any shooting or tingling sensations going down your leg as you may be compressing a nerve.