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Title: Patella  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Attenuated patella alta, Vastus lateralis muscle, Arthrofibrosis, Human leg, Bone
Collection: Bones of the Lower Limb, Knee, Patella, Sesamoid Bones
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Right knee
Latin patella
MeSH A02.835.232.043.650.624
FMA 24485
Anatomical terms of bone

The patella (), also known as the kneecap or kneepan, is a thick, circular-triangular bone which articulates with the femur (thigh bone) and covers and protects the anterior articular surface of the knee joint. The patella is found in most vertebrates such as mice, cats, and birds, but not in whales or most reptiles and amphibians such as snakes or frogs.

In humans, the patella is the largest sesamoid bone in the body. Babies are born with a patella of soft cartilage which begins to ossify into bone at about three years of age.


  • Structure 1
    • Variation 1.1
    • Development 1.2
  • Function 2
  • Clinical significance 3
    • Dislocation 3.1
    • Fracture 3.2
    • Exostosis 3.3
  • Other animals 4
  • History 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


The patella is a sesamoid bone roughly triangular in shape, with the apex of the patella facing downards.The apex is the most inferior (lowest) part of the patella. It is pointed in shape, and gives attachment to the patellar ligament.

The front and back surfaces are joined by a thin margin and towards centre by a thicker margin.[1] The tendon of the quadriceps femoris muscle attaches to the base of the patella.,[1] with the vastus intermedius muscle attaching to the base itself, and the vastus lateralis and vastus medialis are attached to outer lateral and medial borders of patella respectively.

The upper third of the front of the patella is coarse, flattened, and rough, and serves for the attachment of the tendon of the quadriceps and often has exostoses. The middle third has numerous vascular canaliculi. The lower third culminates in the apex which serves as the origin of the patellar ligament.[1] The posterior surface is divided into two parts.[1]

The upper three-quarters of the patella articulates with the femur and is subdivided into a medial and a lateral facet by a vertical ledge which varies in shape.

In the adult the articular surface is about 12 cm2 (1.9 sq in) and covered by cartilage, which can reach a maximal thickness of 6 mm (0.24 in) in the centre at about 30 years of age.

The lower part of the posterior surface has vascular canaliculi filled and is filled by fatty tissue, the infrapatellar fat pad.


In this X-ray, an anatomical variation of the patella can be seen – the bipartate patella, in which the patella is split into two parts.

Emarginations (i.e. patella emarginata, a "missing piece") are common laterally on the proximal edge.[1] Bipartite patellas are the result of an ossification of a second cartilaginous layer at the location of an emargination. Previously, bipartite patellas were explained as the failure of several ossification centres to fuse, but this idea has been rejected. Partite patellas occur almost exclusively in men. Tripartite and even multipartite patellas occur.

The upper three-quarters of the patella articulates with the femur and is subdivided into a medial and a lateral facet by a vertical ledge which varies in shape. Four main types of articular surface can be distinguished:

  1. Most commonly the medial articular surface is smaller than the lateral.
  2. Sometimes both articular surfaces are virtually equal in size.
  3. Occasionally, the medial surface is hypoplastic or
  4. the central ledge is only indicated.


In the patella an ossification centre develops between the ages 3–6 years.[1] The patella originates from two centres of ossification which unite when fully formed.


The primary functional role of the patella is knee extension. The patella increases the leverage that the tendon can exert on the femur by increasing the angle at which it acts.

It is attached to the tendon of the quadriceps femoris muscle, which contracts to extend/straighten the knee. The patella is stabilized by the insertion of the horizontal fibres of vastus medialis and by the prominence of the lateral femoral condyle, which discourages lateral dislocation during flexion. The retinacular fibres of the patella also stabilize it during exercise.

Clinical significance


Patellar dislocations occur with significant regularity, particular in young female athletes.[2] It involves the patella sliding out of its position on the knee, most often laterally, and may be associated with extremely intense pain and swelling.[3] The patella can be tracked back into the groove with an extension of the leg, and therefore sometimes returns into the proper position on its own.[3]


The kneecap is prone to injury because of its particularly exposed location, and fractures of the patella commonly occur as a consequence of direct trauma onto the knee. These fractures usually cause swelling and pain in the region, bleeding into the joint (hemarthrosis), and an inability to extend the knee. Patella fractures are usually treated with surgery, unless the damage is minimum and the extensor mechanism is intact.[4]


An exostosis is the formation of new bone onto a bone, as a result of excess calcium formation. This can be the cause of chronic pain when formed on the patella.

Other animals

The patella has convergently evolved in placental mammals and birds; most marsupials have only rudimentary, non-ossified patellae although a few species possess a bony patella.[5] A patella is also present in the living monotremes, the platypus and the echidna. In more primitive tetrapods, including living amphibians and most reptiles (except some Lepidosaurs), the muscle tendons from the upper leg are attached directly to the tibia, and a patella is not present.[6]


The etymology of patella presents a case of convergent etymology. In the Western world, 'patella' originated in the late 17th century from the diminutive form of Latin patina, meaning shallow dish.[7] The use of this term in Eastern medicine, however, predates the Western etymology. As early as the 13th century, traditional Ayurveda practitioners in the Indian subcontinent referred to the kneecap as paṭēla haḍḍī (Hindi: पटेल हड्डी), literally 'farmer's bone' because the grueling life of a patidar. The term was subsequently shortened to just 'patela'. During the British Raj period, Western medicine was introduced to India, and the two etymologies converged into the modern medical use, with two 'L's.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Platzer, Werner (2004). Color Atlas of Human Anatomy, Vol. 1: Locomotor System (5th ed.).  
  2. ^ Palmu, S.; Kallio, P.E.; Donell, S.T.; Helenius, I.; Nietosvaara, Y. (2008). "Acute patellar dislocation in children and adolescents: A randomized clinical trial". Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 90 (3): 463–470.  
  3. ^ a b Dath, R.; Chakravarthy, J.; Porter, K.M. (2006). "Patella Dislocations". Trauma 8: 5–11.  
  4. ^ Bentley, G (2014). European Surgical Orthopaedics and Traumatology: The EFORT Textbook. Springer. pp. 2766–2784.  
  5. ^ Herzmark MH (1938). "The Evolution of the Knee Joint" (PDF). J Bone Joint Surg Am 20 (1): 77–84. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  6. ^ Romer, Alfred Sherwood; Parsons, Thomas S. (1977). The Vertebrate Body. Philadelphia, PA: Holt-Saunders International. p. 205.  
  7. ^

External links

  • "Patella overview". The KNEEguru. Retrieved March 2010. 
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