What is the Popliteal Fossa?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Cysts can develop in the popliteal fossa, causing lower leg problems.
Cysts can develop in the popliteal fossa, causing lower leg problems.

The popliteal fossa or “knee pit” is a depression at the back of the knee. When the knee is fully extended, this area of the anatomy resembles a small bowl nestled into the back of the knee, and as the knee is bent, it folds in on itself. It's very easy to palpate this area of the anatomy and find its boundaries by reaching down and feeling behind the knee, for those who are curious.

Massage of the popliteal fossa may be used to address tightness after a knee injury.
Massage of the popliteal fossa may be used to address tightness after a knee injury.

This roughly diamond-shaped structure is bordered by a number of muscles of the leg. It houses the popliteal vein and corresponding popliteal artery, along with several lymph nodes and the common peroneal nerve. As people may note if they feel the area, the structure is bordered on either side by tough tendons that are part of the network of structures used to move and bend the legs.

The popliteal fossa houses the common peroneal nerve.
The popliteal fossa houses the common peroneal nerve.

The upper part of the popliteal fossa is bordered by the bottom of the femur, while the bottom extends to the top of the tibia. The rounded depression is in the back of the knee joint. Hitting this point at the right angle can force someone to fall to their knees, as it essentially pushes the knee joint into folding. This trick is sometimes used in martial arts, and may also be used by law enforcement trying to control an unruly suspect.

Icing injuries to the popliteal fossa may help reduce inflammation.
Icing injuries to the popliteal fossa may help reduce inflammation.

Injuries to the popliteal fossa are relatively uncommon. The surrounding muscles can sometimes experience small tears that cause pain and inflammation in the joint, which can be an issue. The development of inflammation or a cyst can put pressure on the nerves and blood supply, causing problems in the lower leg. Physical therapists helping people recover from knee injuries may also note some tightness and tenderness in this area that needs to be addressed with massage and gentle stretching to restore freedom of movement to the knee.

Swelling may occur as a result of inflammation of the popliteal fossa.
Swelling may occur as a result of inflammation of the popliteal fossa.

Signs that the depression may be experiencing inflammation include pain, tenderness, reddening, and swelling. Icing the area can bring down the inflammation, as can taking anti-inflammatory drugs. If pain persists or becomes worse, it is a good idea for people to consult a medical professional for treatment recommendations; it is possible that surgery, bracing, or other techniques may be needed to address the issue. The knee joint is a common site for injuries, and a knee specialist can provide the highest level of care.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

frosted

@rebelgurl28 - Depending on how severe the pain is, you might need to consult your doctor. If you can still pretty much function during your normal routine (excluding vigorous exercise) I think it would be all right to see if it heals on its own. Give it a few days to see if it starts to feel better.

A few years back I had a Baker cyst, also known as a popliteal cyst, which caused pain in my knee. I am glad that I went to the doctor since it was something he needed to take care of.

SarahGrove

@rebelgurl28 - Personally I would be careful with any injury or bad pain. I certainly wouldn’t continue spinning until the pain goes away. As the article mentions you can ice it.

I believe, though, that I read somewhere that icing an injury is good in the first 24 to 48 hours when inflammation is more likely and then it is good to apply heat to help it heal.

rebelgurl28

I have been taking a spinning class and recently I have been having this really bad pain in my knee pit.

Could I have torn something while spinning? If I have torn something is it better to stop until it is better or should I just try to work it out?

jlknight65

It's funny, because I never even knew what to call this area. I didn't even know to call it the knee pit until a few weeks ago I was reading an article on running.

Then I found out that the elbow pit, a term I had never heard before is technically called the cubital fossa.

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    • Cysts can develop in the popliteal fossa, causing lower leg problems.
      Cysts can develop in the popliteal fossa, causing lower leg problems.
    • Massage of the popliteal fossa may be used to address tightness after a knee injury.
      Massage of the popliteal fossa may be used to address tightness after a knee injury.
    • The popliteal fossa houses the common peroneal nerve.
      The popliteal fossa houses the common peroneal nerve.
    • Icing injuries to the popliteal fossa may help reduce inflammation.
      Icing injuries to the popliteal fossa may help reduce inflammation.
    • Swelling may occur as a result of inflammation of the popliteal fossa.
      Swelling may occur as a result of inflammation of the popliteal fossa.