Pain at the Back of the Knee

Pain at the Back of the Knee

Usual Suspects:

  1. The muscles of the back of the thigh, knee, and lower leg

The Imbue Pain Relief Patch temporarily relieves minor aches and pains of muscles and joints. In the diagrams below, the X’s show the locations of common trigger points (localized muscle strain), and the colored shading shows the pain pattern each trigger point produces. This pain is often several inches (or more) away from the trigger point at which it originates. When a trigger point is to blame for your pain, applying the Imbue Pain Relief Patch at the site of the trigger point sometimes yields better results than applying it where you typically feel the pain.

Muscular pain at the back of the knee has just a small handful of usual suspects. These include the hamstrings (semimembranosus, semitendinosus, and biceps femoris), the large calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), and two short muscles of the back of the knee (plantaris and popliteus). It doesn’t take long to feel them all, and this may be the key to managing your knee pain.

Following is a description and diagram of each of these muscles. You can get a general idea of where each muscle tends to form trigger points (shown as X’s) and the pain patterns they produce (shown in colored shading) just by looking at the diagrams. The descriptions add some useful information on the locations of these trigger points and the kind of pain they produce. Always be sure to feel the whole muscle, or at least several inches around the trigger point you’re searching for, since these X’s are not the only places where trigger points in each muscle may occur. When you find an especially tender spot that contributes to your knee pain, do some massage and apply the Imbue Pain Relief Patch here.

Popliteus and Plantaris:

These two muscles are located right behind the knee. Both connect the thigh bone to the lower leg. Plantaris’s trigger point and pain pattern are shown on the left leg. Its tendon runs the whole way down to the heel, and it helps us flex the foot downward. Its trigger point is found on or near the knee crease, usually a bit outward from the center. Often it will be found just to the inside of the prominent tendon of the outer hamstring. The trigger point and pain pattern of popliteus are shown on the right leg. It is located slightly below the center of the knee crease. The easiest way to examine this area is to put one or both hands over your knee so that the fingers lay over the kneecap and the thumbs are in the back of the knee. Then use one thumb, or support one with the other, to press firmly in this area.


The hamstrings are two strong, thick bands of muscle at the back of the thigh. Both bands originate at the base of the pelvis (the ischial tuberosity or sitz bone). The outer hamstring, called biceps femoris, runs downward to attach at the outside of the knee. The inner hamstring, made up of two muscles – semitendinosus and semimembranosus – runs down the leg to attach at the inside of the knee. Both hamstrings tend to form trigger points near the middle of their length.

Trigger points in the outer hamstring are shown on the left leg in the diagram. They produce pain at the back of the thigh and focused behind the knee (and are therefore somewhat more likely to be involved in pain at the back of the knee). Trigger points in the inner hamstring are shown on the right leg in the diagram. They produce pain at the back of the thigh that tends to be focused more near its upper end, though it may also extend down to the knee and into the inner calf.

To examine this area for trigger points, you will need the help of a friend or the use of a tool such as a Thera Cane or a small ball, such as a lacrosse ball. You can lie face down and have a friend press firmly, following several lines from the crease at the base of the buttock down to almost the knee, starting first near the inside edge of the thigh and then working outward to the outer edge of the back of the thigh. The Thera Cane or ball are also easy to use. With the ball, sit on a hard, flat chair or bench, and place the ball under the crease at the base of the buttock. From there, slowly roll or reposition the ball to cover the whole area described above (see diagram). You may find it helps to lean your forearm on top of your thigh to get more pressure on the ball. If you find any areas of significant tenderness, especially if it contributes to your knee pain, do some massage here with the Thera Cane or ball, and apply the Imbue Pain Relief Patch.


This muscle (along with the soleus, below) forms the characteristic bulge of the upper calf. It has two main trigger point patterns. In the diagram, the leg on the left shows a trigger point near the upper, inner portion of the muscle (see X) that produces broad calf pain (see red shading) including along the inside of the ankle and arch of the foot. The leg on the right shows other gastrocnemius trigger points that tend to cause more localized pain at the back of the knee.


Beneath the gastrocnemius is the broader, thicker soleus muscle. This diagram shows its uppermost trigger point, which is located a few inches below the knee, and right at the midline of the back of the calf or just a bit toward the outside. It produces pain in the upper calf that may extend into the back of the knee.

When hunting for trigger points in both the soleus and gastrocnemius, just feel the upper half of the back of the leg. Besides using your fingers and thumbs to dig in here, you can cross your calf over the opposite knee and press on your leg to push the calf into the knee. This provides nice broad pressure. Alternatively, you can use a Thera Cane, or place a ball (a lacrosse ball is best) under the calf while resting it on a firm chair or bench.

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