The knee is a complex joint made up of different structures including bones, tendons, ligaments and muscles. They all work together to maintain 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 the shinbone (tibia). There are two round knobs at the end of the femur called femoral condyles which articulate with the flat surface of the tibia called the tibial plateau. The tibia plateau on the inside of the leg is called the medial tibial plateau, and on the outside of the leg it is called 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 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 which 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, there 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 by preventing 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 function to stabilize the knee joint. There are two important groups of ligaments that hold the bones of the knee joint together, collateral ligaments and the cruciate ligament.
Collateral ligaments are present on either side of the knee. They function to 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 or ACL and the cruciate ligament in the back of the knee is called posterior cruciate ligament or PCL.
Muscles of the Knee
Muscles: There are two major muscles, the quadriceps and the hamstrings, which enable movement of the knee joint. The quadriceps muscles are in the front of the thigh. When the quadriceps muscles contract, the knee straightens. The hamstrings are in the back of the thigh. When the hamstring muscles contract, the knee bends.
Tendons of the Knee
Tendons are structures that attach muscles to the 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.
Knee pain is a common condition affecting individuals from different age groups. It not only affects movement but also impacts the quality of life of the individual. 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.
Osteochondritis dissecans is a joint condition in which a piece of cartilage, along with a thin layer of the bone separates from the end of the bone because of inadequate blood supply. The separated fragments are sometimes called “joint mice”. These fragments may be localized, or may detach and fall into the joint space causing pain and joint instability.
The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the major ligaments of the knee that is in the middle of the knee and runs from the femur (thighbone) to the tibia (shinbone). It prevents the tibia from sliding out in front of the femur. Together with posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) it provides rotational stability to the knee.
The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is the ligament that is located on the inner part of the knee joint. It runs from the femur (thighbone) to the top of the tibia (shinbone) and helps in stabilizing the knee.
Medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury can result in a stretch, partial tear, or complete tear of the ligament. Injuries to the MCL commonly occur because of pressure or stress on the outside part of the knee.
Posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), one of four major ligaments of the knee, is situated at the back of the knee. It connects the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia). The PCL limits the backward motion of the shinbone.
PCL injuries are very rare and are more difficult to detect than other knee ligament injuries.
Meniscus tear is the commonest knee injury in athletes, especially those involved in contact sports. A sudden bend or twist in your knee causes the meniscus to tear. This is a traumatic meniscus tear. Elderly people are more prone to degenerative meniscal tears as the cartilage wears out and weakens with age. The two wedge-shaped cartilage pieces present between the thighbone and the shinbone are called meniscus. They stabilize the knee joint and act as “shock absorbers”.
The knee is a complex joint of the body which is vital for movement. The four major ligaments of the knee are anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and lateral collateral ligament. They play an important role in maintaining the stability of the knee. A multiligament injury is a tear in one or more ligaments of the knee, thus affecting the knee stability.
Arthritis is a general term covering numerous conditions where the joint surface or cartilage wears out. The joint surface is covered by a smooth articular surface that allows pain-free movement in the joint. This surface can wear out for several reasons; often the definite cause is not known.
A fracture is a condition in which there is a break in the continuity of the bone. In younger individuals, these fractures are caused from high energy injuries, as from a motor vehicle accident. In older people, the most common cause is weak and fragile bone.
Bicompartmental Knee Resurfacing
The knee can be divided into three compartments: Patellofemoral, the compartment on the front of the knee which contains the kneecap, medial compartment, the compartment on the inside of the knee, and lateral compartment which is the area on the outside of the knee joint.
Partial Knee Resurfacing
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.
Arthroscopic Reconstruction of the Knee for Ligament Injuries
The surgical repair of the completely torn ligament involves reconstruction of the torn ligament using a tissue graft taken from another part of the body or from a donor. The damaged ligament is replaced by the graft and fixed to the femur and tibia using metallic screws. Gradually, over a period of a few months, the graft heals.
Medial Opening Wedge High Tibial Osteotomy
The goal of the surgery is to release the involved joint compartment by correcting the malalignment of the tibia and to maintain the joint line perpendicular to the mechanical axis of the leg. There are two techniques that may be used: closing wedge osteotomy and opening wedge osteotomy. The surgeon determines the choice of the technique based on the requirement of the patient.
The anterior cruciate ligament 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 unfortunately, it does not heal and often leads to the feeling of instability in the knee.
A meniscus tear is the commonest knee injury in athletes, especially those involved in contact sports. A sudden bend or twist in your knee can cause the meniscus to tear. This is a traumatic meniscal tear. Elderly people are more prone to degenerative meniscal tears as the cartilage wears out and weakens with age.