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Got knee pain? Learn about the knees and how to best protect them

Updated: May 2, 2023

Knee Anatomy

The knee is a weight-bearing joint composed of the patella, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and meniscus. It is the “meeting point” for the bones of the leg: the femur (thigh bone), the tibia (the shin), and the fibula.

Bones of the knee

The femur connects the hip to the knee and is a weight-bearing bone. The tibia connects the knee to the ankle. The fibula is shorter than the tibia and runs parallel to the tibia. Lastly, the patella (knee cap) attaches to the quadricep tendon and the patellar ligament. It rests on the end of the femur and protects the knee.

Ligaments of the knee

Ligaments comprise collagen, connective tissue, and elastic fibers that attach bones. The four ligaments in the knee are the Anterior Cruciate Ligament, the Posterior Cruciate Ligament, the Medial Collateral Ligament, and the Lateral Cruciate Ligament.

Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL): The ACL is the stabilizing ligament in the knee. It is located in the center of the knee, running from the femur to the tibia. It prevents the tibia from moving in front of the femur and controls the rotation of the knee.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL): The MCL keeps the tibia in place. It runs from the top of the tibia to the bottom of the femur. The MCL prevents the knee from collapsing medially.

Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL): The PCL runs from the bottom front of the femur to the top back of the tibia. The PCL prevents posterior instability in the knee.

Lateral Cruciate Ligament (LCL): The LCL stabilizes the outside of the knee. It runs from the top of the fibula to the outside of the lower femur.

Menisci of the knee

In the knee, the menisci act as shock absorbers between the femur and the tibia.

Medial Meniscus: The medial meniscus is a crescent-shaped fibrocartilaginous structure that attaches to the top of the tibia.

Lateral Meniscus: The lateral meniscus is another fibrocartilaginous structure found in the knee, located near the outer side of the knee.

Common Injuries

  • ACL injury

  • Meniscal Tears

  • Knee Bursitis

  • Patellar Tendinitis

  • Fractures

  • Patellofemoral Knee Syndrome

ACL Injury

An ACL injury is one of the most common knee injuries. It can be a tear or sprain of the anterior cruciate ligament. The injury can be a partial tear or a complete tear of the ligament. ACL injuries are referred to as sprains, of which there are three types:

  • Grade 1: The ligament has been stretched but is still able to keep the joint stable

  • Grade 2: The ligament is injured so that it becomes loose. This is also known as a partial tear.

  • Grade 3: The ligament has been torn in half or pulled off the bone. This is known as a complete tear.

Meniscal Tears

A meniscal tear is a common knee injury that can occur because of a sudden twist of the upper leg while bearing weight.

Knee Bursitis

Knee Bursitis is an overuse injury characterized by the inflammation of the bursa (fluid-filled cushioning sacs) near the knee joint.

Patellar Tendinitis

Patellar Tendinitis is another overuse injury that causes inflammation of the patella tendon.


A knee fracture (or patellar fracture) is a break in the patella.

Patellofemoral Knee Syndrome

Patellofemoral Knee Syndrome is an overuse injury characterized by pain at the front of the knee and around the kneecap. It is also called Jumper’s Knee or Runner’s Knee.

How to strengthen your knee

Protecting the knee requires strengthening the areas around the knee. Some exercises that can help strengthen and support the knee are:

  • Leg extension with resistance band

  • Lying hamstring curl (with and without resistance bands)

  • Prone Leg Raises

  • Calf Raises

  • Quad Set

Squats and lunges can strengthen the area and best support the knee. However, they are weight-bearing exercises. Start with non-weight-bearing exercises and progress as tolerated. If the pain is persistent or unmanageable, seek the help of a professional like a physical therapist.

Pain in the knee can also be a result of the surrounding areas. For example, pain in the knee can stem from the knee taking too much load due to improper movement or restriction in the hips. Pain in the front of the knee may also be caused by tightness in the quadriceps.

Some mobility exercises and stretches for the areas surrounding the knee are:

  • Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

  • Quad Stretch

  • 90/90

Relaxing the muscles around the knee can also be done through myofascial release using a foam roller or ball.

Strengthening the muscles surrounding the knees and ensuring proper mobility in those areas will help reduce the stress on the knee. As a result, this will reduce pain intensity and help prevent knee injury. However, please check with a professional if the pain persists or intensifies.


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