Popliteal Entrapment Syndrome

What is it?

The popliteal fossa is the hollow area behind the knee. The major arteries, veins and nerves to the calf and foot pass through this area as well as a number of muscles. Sometimes the main (popliteal) artery gets intermittently trapped during exercise. This results in a reduction of blood flow to the muscles of the lower leg and foot.

Why does it occur?

In some people the popliteal artery follows an unusual or abnormal route behind the knee. As a result the major muscles or tendons of the leg may cause the artery to be damaged or compressed, particularly during exercise.

What problems can it cause?

People who have compression of the artery behind the knee may experience cramps or pain in the calf, particularly on intense or prolonged exercise. This is due to the reduce blood supply (oxygen) to the muscles. In most cases the pain is so severe that exercise cannot be continued. The condition usually occurs in young people (most commonly army recruits). Often the condition is not recognised for sometime and the pain is put down to muscular problems or other conditions such as 'shin splints' or compartment syndrome. Occasionally the artery becomes damaged (narrowed or blocked) as a result of the trapping. In these people the symptoms are usually worse and may severely compromise the circulation to the foot even at rest.

Reasons for treatment?

Some patients will respond to physiotherapy to help change the way they run. Others will accept that they have the condition and take up another sport or job. Surgery may be performed to release or repair the damaged artery and improve symptoms.

The medical information provided here is intended solely for patients of the London & Surrey Vascular Clinic, it is general information only and should not be used as a substitute for personal advice received when consulting your own surgeon face-to-face.

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