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Bone: Patella
Right knee
Latin patella
Gray's subject #60 255
MeSH Patella

The patella, also known as the knee cap or kneepan, is a thick, circular-triangular bone which articulates with the femur and covers and protects the anterior articular surface of the knee joint. It is the largest sesamoid bone in the human body.


Human left patella - anterior aspect

The patella is roughly triangular in shape with its base facing proximally (towards the torso) and its tip (apex patellae) facing distally (towards the feet). Its anterior and posterior surfaces are joined laterally (left/right) by a thinner margin and medially (towards centre) by a thicker margin. [1]

 Anterior surface

The anterior surface can be divided into three parts:

  1. The upper third is coarse, flattened, and rough; it serves for the attachment of the tendon of the quadriceps and often has exostoses.
  2. The middle third has numerous vascular canaliculi.
  3. The lower third includes the distal apex which serves as the origin of the patellar ligament.


 Posterior surface

Human left patella - posterior aspect

The posterior surface is divided into two parts.

The upper three-quarters 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 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.



Emarginations (i.e. patella emarginata, a "missing piece") are common laterally on the proximal edge. 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.



It is attached to the tendon of the quadriceps femoris muscle, which contracts to extend/straighten the knee. The vastus intermedialis muscle is attached to the base of patella. The vastus lateralis and vastus medialis are attached to lateral and medial borders of patella respectively.

The patella is stabilized by the insertion of vastus medialis and the prominence of the anterior femoral condyles, which prevent lateral dislocation during flexion. The retinacular fibres of the patella also stabilize it during exercise.


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.


In the patella an ossification centre develops between the ages 3-4 years. [1]

 Evolutionary variation

The patella has convergently evolved in placental mammals and birds; marsupials have only rudimentary, non-ossified patellae.[2] In more primitive tetrapods, including living amphibians and reptiles, the muscle tendons from the upper leg are attached directly to the tibia, and the patella is not present.[3]

 See also

 Additional images

Lower extremity  
Right knee-joint. Anterior view.  
Sagittal section of right knee-joint.  
Capsule of right knee-joint (distended). Lateral aspect.  
Front and medial aspect of right thigh.  
Lateral aspect of right leg.  
Posterior surface of right patella  


  1. ^ a b c d e Platzer, Werner (2004). Color Atlas of Human Anatomy, Vol. 1: Locomotor System (5th ed.). Thieme. p. 194. ISBN 3-13-533305-1. 
  2. ^ Herzmark MH (1938). "The Evolution of the Knee Joint". J Bone Joint Surg Am 20: 77–84. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  3. ^ Romer, Alfred Sherwood; Parsons, Thomas S. (1977). The Vertebrate Body. Philadelphia, PA: Holt-Saunders International. p. 205. ISBN 0-03-910284-X. 

 External links


The content of this section is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (local copy). It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Patella" modified November 23, 2009 with previous authors listed in its history.