Painful popliteal fossa - that can be behind it

Pain in the popliteal fossa can be an indication of various injuries or diseases of the knee joint: after a fall or an accident, pain in the popliteal fossa, for example, may indicate damage to the knee ligaments or a meniscus. However, if the popliteal fossa hurts especially after exercise, it is often caused by over- or under-loading.

Causes in the overview

Rarely, thrombosis of the leg veins can also cause pain in the popliteal fossa. A painful, palpable swelling in the popliteal fossa, however, is often indicative of a so-called Baker's cyst: This is a mostly harmless Aussackung the joint capsule, which is filled with synovial fluid.

We have summarized for you an overview of the causes behind pain in the popliteal fossa.

Injuries of the knee joint as a cause

Falling, accident, or twisting the knee may damage the meniscus or knee ligaments, such as a cruciate ligament tear. Depending on the exact location of the injury, the pain may also be located in the popliteal fossa or radiate there.

In case of pain after a fall, the PECH rule generally applies:

  • Break (avoid stress on the affected leg)
  • Ice (cooling)
  • Compression (slight pressure to reduce swelling and bruising, such as taping with an elastic bandage)
  • elevating

If the pain does not improve after a few days, you should consult a doctor - the diagnosis can usually be confirmed by MRI.

Aching back of the knee after exercise

If the popliteal fossa hurts, especially during exercise or after exercise, overloading of the popliteal muscle (popliteus muscle) or hamstrings (hamstring muscles) may be the cause. These muscles are at the back of the thigh and run past the popliteal fossa to the calf.

Too intense or incorrect training - for example while jogging or cycling - can cause irritation or inflammation of the tendons of these muscles. This is then noticeable by pain on the inside or outside of the popliteal fossa, which mainly occurs when the knee is bent or when pressure is applied to the tendon. In addition, the affected tendon may be thickened or overheated.

It is then recommended to take a break for a few days. In case of an overload of the muscles, heat - for example in the form of red light or warm envelopes - is good. In case of inflammation, however, cooling is more useful: the affected popliteal fossa is usually overheated and swollen. However, the preventive effect of stretching before or after exercise is controversial: a slight stretching does not seem to hurt at least.

Baker's cyst: swelling in the popliteal fossa

A Baker's cyst is an outgrowth of the knee joint capsule, which arises in increased formation of synovial fluid due to the increased pressure in the joint. Cause is usually an irritation of the knee joint - such as osteoarthritis, meniscal damage or joint inflammation. Less common is a Baker cyst after knee injuries.

A Baker's cyst becomes noticeable as a palpable swelling or bump in the popliteal fossa. When stretching or bending the knee, pain or pulling in the popliteal fossa can also occur. Rarely, the cyst can tear - then it comes to sudden, severe pain and redness and overheating of the popliteal fossa. Learn here what you can do with a Baker cyst.

Thrombosis as a rare cause

In rare cases, pain in the popliteal fossa may be indicative of thrombosis in a leg vein. In order to be able to estimate the probability of a thrombosis, the knowledge of their risk factors is important:

Immobilization of the legs as in bed rest, as well as after operations or injuries, in which relief by crutches is necessary

  • long sitting, for example on long-haul flights or long journeys by train or car
  • overweight
  • Age over 60 years
  • cancers
  • Thrombosis in the past
  • Diseases with coagulation tendency (thrombophilia)
  • Pregnancy and childbed (up to six weeks after birth)
  • Smoke
  • Taking the anti-baby pill or hormone treatment with estrogen

In a thrombosis may occur as further symptoms, a swelling of the popliteal fossa or calf and a bluish discoloration or clearly visible veins (as in varicose veins). In addition, pain when squeezing the calf or pressing on the sole of the foot may encourage suspected thrombosis.

If you suspect that you may have a thrombosis, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible, as in the worst case, a life-threatening pulmonary embolism may be the result. Read all the details about a thrombosis here.

Nerve irritation: pain during stretching

Through the popliteal fossa runs the tibial nerve (tibial nerve), which allows, among other things, the extension of the foot. Rapid muscle growth during intense strength training, a knee-bruise, or a Baker's cyst can narrow the nerve and cause pain in the popliteal fossa.

The pain then occurs preferably when stretching the knee or after long walking or running. In addition, irritation of the tibial nerve may cause burning or tingling in the calf.

Pain in the popliteal fossa in the child

In children, pain in the popliteal fossa or in the calf, which occur without previous fall, often due to growth: Such growth pains occur mostly at kindergarten and primary school age and usually disappear after some time by itself. However, if the pain persists for a long time or is unusually severe, they should be clarified by a doctor - especially if the child has fallen or had an accident.

In rare cases, a detachment of the growth plate (epiphyseolysis) can be behind a sore popliteal fossa in children. This condition can occur for no apparent reason or due to injury. A quick treatment is important, otherwise it can lead to growth disorders.

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