Definition of Knee

Knee: The knee is a joint which has three parts. The thigh bone (the femur) meets the large shin bone (the tibia) to form the main knee joint. This joint has an inner (medial) and an outer (lateral) compartment. The kneecap (the patella) joins the femur to form a third joint, called the patellofemoral joint. The patella protects the front of the knee joint.

The knee joint is surrounded by a joint capsule with ligaments strapping the inside and outside of the joint (collateral ligaments) as well as crossing within the joint (cruciate ligaments). The collateral ligaments run along the sides of the knee and limit the sideways motion of the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) connects the tibia to the femur at the center of the knee and functions to limit rotation and forward motion of the tibia. The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) located just behind the ACL limits the backward motion of the tibia. All of these ligaments provide stability and strength to the knee joint.

Knee Joint illustration - Knee

The meniscus is a thickened cartilage pad between the two joints formed by the femur and tibia. The meniscus acts as a smooth surface for the joint to move on. The knee joint is surrounded by fluid- filled sacs called bursae, which serve as gliding surfaces that reduce friction of the tendons. Below the kneecap, there is a large tendon (patellar tendon) which attaches to the front of the tibia bone. There are large blood vessels passing through the area behind the knee (referred to as the popliteal space).

The large muscles of the thigh move the knee. In the front of the thigh the quadriceps muscles extend the knee joint. In the back of the thigh, the hamstring muscles flex the knee. The knee also rotates slightly under guidance of specific muscles of the thigh.

The knee functions to allow movement of the leg and is critical to normal walking. The knee flexes normally to a maximum of 135 degrees and extends to 0 degrees. The bursae, or fluid-filled sacs, serve as gliding surfaces for the tendons to reduce the force of friction as these tendons move. The knee is a weight-bearing joint. Each meniscus serves to evenly load the surface during weight- bearing and also adds in disbursing joint fluid for joint lubrication.


Last Editorial Review: 8/28/2013

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