It really is true that every day we learn something new. One thing I've learned recently is that we have this little muscle in the back of our knee called the popliteus. Even though it's small, hidden, and usually just hangs out and does its thing, when it gets upset, it screams.
I wrote a bit about my injury in my first post on our vacation in Vancouver, but at that point I didn't know what was causing all the pain. Turns out my popliteus muscle is inflamed.
This is a common case of an overuse injury which I can pinpoint exactly to the week I ran way to many miles in an effort to make sure I was ready for the Colfax Marathon Relay after being out sick for 15 days. And running another race a week later. The trouble is my legs were feeling good that first week back so I thought I was in the clear until I started feeling a little nagging behind my knee after the race.
Along with overuse, this muscle can become inflamed or strained from running on a road or trail camber (a sloped surface) can have a big impact on how our muscles work. Worn down shoes (guilty) and over pronation (also guilty) could have also played a factor.
What Is The Popliteus Muscle?
From my Doc and through a bit of research, I found the popliteus muscle is a small, triangular shaped muscle that originates at the inside of the femur near the knee and connects into the outside of the tibia just above the calf muscle. The purpose of this muscle is to allow the tibia to rotate internally in relation to the femur and "unlock" the knee. In other words, it's pretty crucial to movement and standing requires very little of this muscle.
What It Feels Like When It's Mad
In my case, this has meant that I'm unable to completely straighten my right leg, and when I do involuntarily - for example when walking quickly, if I just step strangely, or unconsciously stretch out my legs while sleeping - it sends pain down my calf muscle and up to my glute. Sometimes its been a stabbing pain that takes my breath away, while at other times its been a dull nagging pain. To make it things even more exciting, I've favored my right side so much that it's caused issues on the left side and my hips are now even more asymmetrical than usual!
Laying it all out there, the pain has been so intense at times that I've been nervous to walk down a busy sidewalk because afraid that a runaway kid or an excited dog would require me to move quickly and the muscle will kick back at me, hard. It's really not fun to be nervous about a walk to the coffee shop - or to avoid it altogether. Fun times.
While this is what I've experienced, I'm just one person and I'm sure that an inflamed popliteus results in a wide range of aches and pains. That said, hopefully I can help someone out by describing what I'm going through who might also have this unusual injury.
Before I saw the Doc at the CU Sports Med Clinic in Denver - who specializes in runners and said this is pretty uncommon - I first went to Google and tried to self-diagnose, which we all know is not the best way to go about things. The popliteus muscle didn't show up in any of my searches and led me to think the worst (I think I have a blood clot and I'm going to die!). ITBS, runner's knee, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, and stress fractures seem to get most of the attention when it comes to running injuries.
I'm massaging with ice - dixie cup style, using a topical anti-inflammatory - it's easier on the stomach, not running, and trying to get a few sessions with a physical therapist. From what I understand, the PT will massage the hard-to-reach muscle and assist with specific stretches which will help relax all the muscles on my right side. Hopefully all of this will work together to make my popliteus muscle happy again so I can get back to running. From what I understand it should only be another couple weeks and I'm definitely feeling much better already.
I highly suggest that if you feel anything like what I've described above, ice immediately and often, and get in to see a doctor as soon as possible. You don't want to miss a race like I'm going to on the 4th.
Have you had a popliteus flare-up or some other strange running-related injury? * Will you be running a Fourth of July race?