The knee is a complex joint made up of different structures - bones, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. They all work together to maintain the knee’s normal function and provide stability to the knee during movement.
Having a well-functioning healthy knee is essential for our mobility and ability to participate in various activities. Understanding the anatomy of the knee enhances your ability to discuss and choose the right treatment procedure for knee problems with your doctor.
Bones of the Knee
The knee is a hinge joint made up of two bones, the thighbone (femur) and shinbone (tibia). There are two round knobs at the end of the femur called femoral condyles that articulate with the flat surface of the tibia called the tibial plateau. The tibial plateau on the inside of the leg is called the medial tibial plateau and on the outside of the leg, the lateral tibial plateau.
The two femoral condyles form a groove on the front (anterior) side of the knee called the patellofemoral groove. A small bone called the patella sits in this groove and forms the kneecap. It acts as a shield and protects the knee joint from direct trauma.
A fourth bone called the fibula is the other bone of the lower leg. This forms a small joint with the tibia. This joint has very little movement and is not considered a part of the main joint of the knee.
Articular Cartilage and Menisci of the Knee
Movement of the bones causes friction between the articulating surfaces. To reduce this friction, all articulating surfaces involved in the movement are covered with a white, shiny, slippery layer called articular cartilage. The articulating surface of the femoral condyles, tibial plateaus and the back of the patella are covered with this cartilage. The cartilage provides a smooth surface that facilitates easy movement.
To further reduce friction between the articulating surfaces of the bones, the knee joint is lined by a synovial membrane that produces a thick clear fluid called synovial fluid. This fluid lubricates and nourishes the cartilage and bones inside the joint capsule.
Within the knee joint, between the femur and tibia, are two C-shaped cartilaginous structures called menisci. Menisci function to provide stability to the knee by spreading the weight of the upper body across the whole surface of the tibial plateau. The menisci help in load-bearing i.e. it prevents the weight from concentrating onto a small area, which could damage the articular cartilage. The menisci also act as a cushion between the femur and tibia by absorbing the shock produced by activities such as walking, running and jumping.
Ligaments of the Knee
Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect one bone to another bone. The ligaments of the knee stabilize the knee joint. There are two important groups of ligaments that hold the bones of the knee joint together, collateral and cruciate ligaments.
Collateral ligaments are present on either side of the knee. They prevent the knee from moving too far during side to side motion. The collateral ligament on the inside is called the medial collateral ligament (MCL) and the collateral ligament on the outside is called the lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
Cruciate ligaments, present inside the knee joint, control the back-and-forth motion of the knee. The cruciate ligament in the front of the knee is called anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the cruciate ligament in the back of the knee is called posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).
Muscles of the Knee
There are two major muscles in the knee - the quadriceps and the hamstrings, which enable movement of the knee joint. The quadriceps muscles are located in front of the thigh. When the quadriceps muscles contract, the knee straightens. The hamstrings are located at the back of the thigh. When the hamstring muscles contract, the knee bends.
Tendons of the Knee
A tendon is a tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. The quadriceps muscles of the knee meet just above the patella and attach to it through a tendon called the quadriceps tendon. The patella further attaches to the tibia through a tendon called the patella tendon. The quadriceps muscle, quadriceps tendon, and patellar tendon all work together to straighten the knee. Similarly, the hamstring muscles at the back of the leg are attached to the knee joint with the hamstring tendon.
Shin splints are pain and inflammation of the tendons, muscles and bone tissue along the tibia or shinbone (lower leg). It occurs because of vigorous physical activities such as exercise or sports. The condition is also referred to as medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS).
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the major ligaments of the knee. It is located in the middle of the knee and runs from the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). The ACL prevents the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur. Together with the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), it provides rotational stability to the knee.
Meniscal tears are among the commonest injuries to the knee joint. It can occur at any age but are more common in athletes involved in contact sports. The meniscus has no direct blood supply and for that reason, when there is an injury to the meniscus, healing is difficult.
A meniscal tear is a common knee injury in athletes, especially those involved in contact sports. A sudden bend or twist in your knee causes the meniscus to tear. Elderly people are more prone to degenerative meniscal tears as the cartilage wears out and weakens with age.
The patella or kneecap is a small bone present in the front of your knee where the thigh bone meets the shinbone. It provides protection to your knee and attachment to muscles in the front of the thigh. An injury to the knee can result in a break or fracture of the patella.
The joint surface is covered by a smooth articular surface that allows pain-free movement in the joint. Arthritis is a general term covering numerous conditions where the joint surface or cartilage wears out. This surface can wear out for several reasons; often the definite cause is not known. Arthritis often affects the knee joint.
Knee pain is a common condition affecting individuals of various age groups. It not only affects movement but also impacts your quality of life. An injury or disease of the knee joint or any structure surrounding the knee can result in knee pain. A precise diagnosis of the underlying cause is important to develop an appropriate treatment plan.
The kneecap or patella forms a part of the knee joint. It is present at the front of the knee, protecting the knee and providing attachment to various muscle groups of the thigh and leg. The undersurface of the kneecap and the lower end of the femur are coated with articular cartilage, which helps in smooth movement of the knee joint.
Posterolateral instability, also known as posterolateral rotatory instability (PLRI), is a common pattern of knee instability that results from injuries to the structures that support the outside of the knee joint, the posterolateral corner. When individuals injure the knee ligaments, they are most likely to injure the structures of the posterolateral corner.
Articular or hyaline cartilage is the tissue lining the surface of the two bones in the knee joint. Cartilage helps the bones move smoothly against each other and can withstand the weight of the body during activities such as running and jumping. Articular cartilage does not have a direct blood supply to it so has little capacity to repair itself.
Osteoarthritis also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common form of arthritis. It occurs most often in older people. This disease affects the tissue covering the ends of bones in a joint (cartilage).In a person with osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes damaged and worn out causing pain, swelling, stiffness and restricted movement in the affected joint.
Trauma is any injury caused during physical activity, motor vehicle accidents, electric shock, or other activities. Sports trauma or sports injuries refer to injuries caused while playing indoor or outdoor sports and exercising. Sports trauma can result from accidents, inadequate training, improper use of protective devices, or insufficient stretching or warm-up exercises. The most common sports injuries are sprains and strains, fractures, and dislocations.
Of the menisci within the knee, it is the medial that is more easily injured. Differences in the anatomical attachments of the medial meniscus compared to the lateral, mean that the medial meniscus becomes distorted during combined flexion and rotation movements in a manner not experienced on the lateral side.
Anterior knee pain is characterized by chronic pain over the front and center of the knee joint. It is common in athletes, active adolescents (especially girls) and overweight individuals. Anterior knee pain refers to various conditions, which include runner's knee or patellar tendinitis, and chondromalacia of the patella.
The meniscus is a C-shaped cartilage ring that acts as a cushion between the shinbone and the thighbone. Each of your knees has two menisci - one on the inside (medial aspect) and the other on the outside (lateral aspect)of your knee. Apart from the cushioning effect, the menisci also provide stability to the knee.
The medial patellofemoral ligament is a band of tissue that extends from the femoral medial epicondyle to the superior aspect of the patella. It is a major ligament that stabilizes the patella and helps in preventing patellar subluxation (partial dislocation) or dislocation.
Knee cartilage restoration is a surgical technique to repair damaged articular cartilage in the knee joint by stimulating new growth of cartilage or by transplanting cartilage into areas with defects in order to relieve pain and restore normal function to the knee.
The articular surfaces of the body’s joints are lined by hyaline cartilage, a smooth tissue that serves as a shock absorber and allows easy movement of the bones within the joint. Normal wear-and-tear or injury can damage and cause defects in the cartilage, resulting in irregular articular surfaces that interfere with movement, causing pain, swelling and disability.
Matrix-Induced autologous chondrocyte implantation is an innovative, FDA-approved cartilage restoration procedure that uses your own cells to repair cartilage defects in your knee. It can alleviate knee pain, help you regain function and may even delay or prevent arthritis.
Arthroscopic debridement is a minimally invasive surgical procedure to treat osteoarthritis caused by an injury or damage to the articular cartilage of the knee joint resulting in restricted motion of the knee. Dr. Mehta provides diagnosis and arthroscopic debridement surgery in Geneva, IL.
LPFL reconstruction or lateral patellofemoral ligament reconstruction is a surgical procedure employed to treat patients with severe patellofemoral instability. The procedure involves replacing a torn lateral patellofemoral ligament with a part of a tendon taken from your leg. The main objective of the LPFL reconstruction is to tighten the knee joint and restore its stability.
Weight-bearing joints, such as the knee, may develop defects in the articular cartilage (spongy tissue that lines and cushions joints during movement) due to stress, trauma or degenerative disease. This can lead to pain, swelling or locking at the joint. Mosaicplasty is a surgical technique to repair the defect by transplanting healthy bone and cartilage from non-weight bearing areas of the knee.
Partial knee replacement is an alternative to total knee replacement in patients with arthritis on only one side of the knee. Partial knee replacement is a surgical procedure which involves resurfacing and replacement of only the diseased surface of the joint instead of the entire joint.
The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is one of the major stabilizing ligaments in the knee. It is a strong rope-like structure located in the center of the knee running from the femur to the tibia. When this ligament tears, it does not heal on its own and often leads to the feeling of instability in the knee.
Viscosupplementation refers to the injection of a hyaluronan preparation into the joint. Hyaluronan is a natural substance present in the joint fluid that assists in lubrication. It allows the smooth movement of the cartilage-covered articulating surfaces of the joint.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction with patellar tendon is a surgical procedure that replaces the injured ACL with a patellar tendon. The goal of ACL reconstruction surgery is to tighten your knee and to restore its stability.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction with hamstring tendon is a surgical procedure to replace the torn ACL with part of the hamstring tendon taken from your leg. The hamstring is the muscle located on the back of your thigh. The goal of ACL reconstruction surgery is to tighten your knee and restore its stability.
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