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Understanding How the Knee Works

A joint is formed by two or more bones that are connected by thick bands of tissue called ligaments. The knee is the largest joint in the body and is made up of three main parts:

  • The lower end of the thigh bone, or femur.
  • The upper end of the shin bone, or tibia.
  • The kneecap, or patella.

The thigh bone (femur) turns on the upper end of the shin bone (tibia), and the kneecap (patella) slides in a groove on the end of the thigh bone. Ligaments, which are bands of tissue, connect the thigh bone and the shin bone to help keep the knee joint steady. The quadriceps, the long muscles on the front of the thigh, help strengthen the knee.

A smooth substance called articular cartilage covers the surface of the bones where they touch each other within the joint. This articular cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones. The rest of the surfaces of the knee joint are covered by a thin, smooth tissue liner called synovial membrane, which makes a small amount of fluid that acts as a lubricant so that the joint bones will not rub against each other. The meniscus is a soft tissue structure that acts as a cushion between the two bones that make up the knee joint. It provides contour to the flat tibial articular surface so that it better matches the rounded end of the femur bone.

What Causes Knee Pain?

One of the most common causes of knee pain and loss of mobility is the wearing away of the joint’s cartilage lining. When this happens, the bones rub against each other, causing significant pain and swelling. The most common cause is a condition known as osteoarthritis. Trauma or direct injury to the knee can also cause osteoarthritis. Without cartilage there is no shock absorption between the bones in the joint, which allows stress to build up in the bones and contribute to pain.

Other causes of knee pain include sports related and traumatic injuries. The knee joint is made up of soft tissue structures that are susceptible to injury with activity. The menisci and knee ligaments are the most commonly injured structures

Your Treatment Options for Knee Pain

When the pain is due to knee arthritis, you may be able to get pain relief from treatments like steroidal and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, bracing, and cortisone injections. But, if you’ve tried these methods and haven’t experienced adequate relief, you don’t have to live with severe knee pain and the limitations it puts on your activities.

Knee surgery may provide the pain relief you long for and enable you to return to the things you enjoy doing. Remember, even if a physician recommends knee surgery, it is still up to you to make the final decision.

When your pain is due to disruption of knee ligaments or the menisci, the Sports Medicine surgeons at Edmonds Orthopedic Center will work with you to determine the best course of treatment that matches your functional goals. Whether that is surgery or intensive therapy rehabilitation, you will have the full range of options at your disposal.

Patient Education Topic: Knee

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