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Knee Injuries and Osteoarthritis

How is the knee designed, and what is its function?

The knee is a joint which has three parts. The thigh bone (femur) meets the large shin bone (tibia) forming the main knee joint. This joint has an inner (medial) and an outer (lateral) compartment. The kneecap (patella) joins the femur to form a third joint, called the patellofemoral 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). These ligaments provide stability and strength to the knee joint.

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. There is a large tendon (patellar tendon) which envelopes the knee cap and 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, or straighten, the knee joint by pulling on the patellar tendon. In the back of the thigh, the hamstring muscles flex, or bend, the knee. The knee also rotates slightly under guidance of specific muscles of the thigh.

Knee Joint

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 aids in disbursing joint fluid for joint lubrication.

What injuries can cause knee pain?

Injury can affect any of the ligaments, bursae, or tendons surrounding the knee joint. Injury can also affect the ligaments, cartilage, menisci (plural for meniscus), and bones forming the joint. The complexity of the design of the knee joint and the fact that it is an active weight-bearing joint are factors in making the knee one of the most commonly injured joints.

Ligament Injury of the Knee

Trauma can cause injury to the ligaments on the inner portion of the knee (medial collateral ligament), the outer portion of the knee (lateral collateral ligament), or within the knee (cruciate ligaments). Injuries to these areas are noticed as immediate pain, but are sometimes difficult to localize. Usually, a collateral ligament injury is felt on the inner or outer portions of the knee. A collateral ligament injury is often associated with local tenderness over the area of the ligament involved. A cruciate ligament injury is felt deep within the knee. It is sometimes noticed with a "popping" sensation with the initial trauma. A ligament injury to the knee is usually painful at rest and may be swollen and warm. The pain is usually worsened by bending the knee, putting weight on the knee, or walking. The severity of the injury can vary from mild (minor stretching or tearing of the ligament fibers, such as a low grade sprain) to severe (complete tear of the ligament fibers). Patients can have more than one area injured in a single traumatic event.

WebMD Medical Reference

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