Understanding The Anatomy of the Knee

inside view of the knee, ligaments and tendonsOur knee joint is unique in that it carries our entire weight at the same time that it provides both motility and flexibility. An understanding of the anatomy of the knee and how it works can help a great deal in understanding both how to prevent injuries, as well as how to aid our knees in healing when the need arises.

There are many varied causes and types of knee injury leading to a wide array of symptoms and pain ranging from an intermittent nagging ache to a debilitating searing pain. We'll be discussing different aspects of knee pain, as well as addressing some common questions that people have on the topic of knee pain, and of course taking a look at the different parts that make up the anatomy of the knee.



Who Most Commonly Suffers From Knee Pain?


We all know that professional athletes, dancers, and those who work in flooring are highly susceptible to knee injuries due to the amount of stress they put on their joints, but the fact is that anyone can succomb to knee injuries. The onset may be prompted by something as simple as a sudden twist on the golf course, a kick or bump, general overuse of the knee or age related stresses on this joint.



Are there early warning signs of knee pain?


The first indication of trouble with the knees is often a nagging sensation that one may tend to ignore initially. This may be followed by a random weakness and buckling sensation. Once the area swells and perhaps even heats with inflammation, we can no longer hope it will simply go away on its own. At the first sign of ache or pain in or around the knee joint, we must analyze what might be different in our activity, footwear, and possible arthritic potential. In order to properly analyze this pain, we need to know the different areas of the knee.



side view of the bones, tendons, ligaments and joints of the kneeThe Anatomy of the Knee – A Closer Look


As previously mentioned, a greater understanding of the anatomy of the knee can help you to avoid injuries. The knee joint is formed by the union of femur, tibia and patella (commonly known as the kneecap). These are bound together by tendons, ligaments and muscles. A tear, strain, overuse, or impact injury to any of these components will affect the knee joint and impede mobility.

The knee joint's complex makeup of the protective patella or kneecap as well as the many tendons, ligaments, including the anterior and posterior ligament, lateral and medial meniscus, are all subject to varying types of injury. The location of the pain can be a good indicator of which structures are involved. Please refer to our diagram of the anatomy of the knee for a better understanding of what is located where.
If, for example the pain is present over the front of the knee, we know the patella or kneecap is involved.
It may be an impact injury, or the bursae beneath the kneecap creating friction due to over usage, wearing, or possibly age related causes.
The experience of pain behind the knee or at the back of the knee can be due to an accumulation of fluid which is commonly known as a Baker's cyst. Relief may be attained by draining of the fluid in some situations.
Pain experienced on the inside or medial aspect of the knee may be caused by minicus or ligament tears or arthritis. Similarly when the pain is felt on the outside or lateral part of the knee tears and arthritis are also suspect.

A new activity can stress the knee joint and cause pain throughout the knee's anatomy. Weight gain can result in knee pain as well, since the added weight translates into more pressure on the joints of the knees. Something as simple and minor as a change in gait, perhaps due to new footwear that isn't broken in properly or doesn't fit well, can stress the knee joint and cause pain.


Knee injury and pain can run the gamut from a mild intermittent annoyance to an excruciating immobilizing condition. Treatment can also vary from an occasional pain killer or anti-inflammatory, to physical therapy, or even ultimately to surgery involving the entire replacement of the knee joint.



Practical Advice For Dealing With Knee Pain


Measures to manage the condition would include stretches of surrounding muscle and tendons aswell as gentle exercise to promote muscle strength surrounding the joint, and application of ice to control inflammation and pain. It is as important to avoid immobility which can lead to atrophy and further pain as it is to avoid aggravation by over exercising and movement. Painkillers may provide some relief and anti-inflammatory medication may also help.


It is most important to listen to our body and monitor the pain. We need to be able to describe the type, severity, timing and duration in order to allow our health care professional to provide the best possible diagnosis and treatment for our specific condition.



In Conclusion...


The causes and severity of knee joint pain are many and varied. As with any condition or change involving our health, we as patients have the most intimate and true knowledge of what we are experiencing. Being aware and in tune with any changes is critical knowledge to monitor and pass along to our health care professionals in order that they may give us their best and most accurate treatment. To truly be able to pass on the best information, however, it's important to be able to identify and understand the different parts that make up the anatomy of the knee.



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