Key Words for Knee Problems

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Ankylosing spondylitis
An inflammatory form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine, leading to stiffening and possible fusion.
Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL)
A ligament in the knee that crosses from the underside of the femur to the top of the tibia. The ligament limits rotation and the forward movement of the tibia.
A term used to refer to some 100 diseases that affect the joints. These diseases cause pain, inflammation, stiffness, damage, and/or malformation. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Avascular necrosis
A disease in which a temporary or permanent loss of the blood supply to the bones causes the bone tissue to die and the bone to collapse. This condition is also known as osteonecrosis, aseptic necrosis, and ischemic necrosis.
A surgical technique that involves making a small incision in the skin over the joint. A small lighted tube (arthroscope) with a camera is inserted through this incision. It takes images of the inside of the joint and projects them
onto a television screen. While the arthroscope is inside the knee joint, the surgeon may insert surgical tools through additional small incisions to remove loose pieces of bone or cartilage or to repair torn ligaments or menisci.
A procedure in which tissue is removed from the body and studied under a microscope. A biopsy of joint tissue may be used to diagnose some forms of arthritis.
Bone scan (radionuclide scanning)
A technique for creating images of bones on a computer screen or on film. Prior to the procedure, a very small amount of radioactive dye is injected into the bloodstream. The dye collects in the bones, particularly in abnormal areas of the bones, and is detected by a scanner. This test detects blood flow to the bone and cell activity within the bone, and can show abnormalities in these processes that may aid diagnosis.
A tough, elastic material that covers the ends of the bones where they meet to form a joint. In the knee, cartilage helps absorb shock and allows the joint to move smoothly.
Computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan
A painless procedure in which x rays are passed through the knee at different
angles, detected by a scanner, and analyzed by a computer. This produces a series of clear cross-sectional images (slices) of the knee tissues on a computer screen. CAT scan images show soft tissues such as ligaments or muscles more clearly than conventional x rays. The computer can combine individual images to give a three-dimensional view of the knee.
Powerful anti-inflammatory hormones made naturally in the body or manmade for use as medicine. Oral corticosteroids may be used to treat systemic inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Corticosteroid injections may be used to reduce inflammation in a joint with arthritis, such as the knee.
The thigh bone or upper leg bone. The femur is one of three bones (the other two are the tibia and the patella) that join to form the knee joint.
An acute and intensely painful form of arthritis. This condition occurs when crystals of the bodily waste product uric acid are deposited in the joints.
Prominent tendons at the back of the knee. Each knee has a pair of hamstrings that connect to the muscles that flex the knee. The hamstring muscles, which bend at the knee, run along the back of the thigh from the hip to just below the knee.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome
An inflammatory condition in the knee caused by the rubbing of a band of tissue over the outer bone (lateral condyle) of the knee. Although iliotibial
band syndrome may be caused by direct injury to the knee, it is most often caused by the stress of long-term overuse, which sometimes results from sports training.
A doctor trained to diagnose and treat nonsurgical diseases.
Lateral collateral ligament (LCL)
The ligament that runs along the outside of the knee joint. It provides stability to the outer (lateral) part of the knee.
A tough band of connective tissue that connects bones to bones.
An autoimmune disease characterized by destructive inflammation of the skin, internal organs, and other body systems as well as the joints.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
A procedure that uses a powerful magnet linked to a computer to create pictures of areas inside the knee. Magnetic energy stimulates knee tissue to produce signals that are detected by a scanner and analyzed by a computer. This creates a series of cross-sectional images of a specific part of the knee. An MRI is particularly useful for detecting soft tissue damage or disease.
Medial collateral ligament (MCL)
The ligament that runs along the inside of the knee joint, providing stability to the outer (medial) part of the knee.
A pad of connective tissue that separates the bones of the knee. The menisci (plural) are divided into two crescent-shaped discs (the lateral and medial) positioned between the tibia and femur on the outer and inner sides of each knee. The two menisci in each knee act as shock absorbers, cushioning the lower part of the leg from the weight of the rest of the body as well as enhancing stability.
Orthopaedic surgeon
A doctor who has been trained in the nonsurgical and surgical treatment of bones, joints, and soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Osgood-Schlatter disease
A disease often caused by repetitive stress or tension on part of the growth area of the upper tibia (the apophysis). It is characterized by inflammation of the patellar tendon and surrounding soft tissues at the point where the tendon attaches to the tibia. The disease may also be associated with an injury in which the tendon is stretched so much that it tears away from the synovium.
A disease in which the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones is lost, leading to joint pain and stiffness. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis grows more common with age.
Osteochondritis dissecans
A condition that results from a loss of the blood supply to an area of bone underneath a joint surface. The condition usually involves the knee. In osteochrondritis dissecans, the affected bone and its covering of cartilage gradually loosen and cause pain. This problem usually arises spontaneously in an active adolescent or young adult. It may be due to a slight blockage of a small artery or to an unrecognized injury or tiny fracture that damages the overlying cartilage. A person with this condition may eventually develop osteoarthritis.
The bone that sits over the other bones at the front of the knee joint and slides when the leg moves. Commonly referred to as the knee cap, the patella protects the knee and gives leverage to muscles.
Plica syndrome
A syndrome that occurs when plicae (bands of synovial tissue) are irritated by overuse or injury. Synovial plicae are the remains of tissue pouches found in the early stages of fetal development. As the fetus develops, these pouches normally combine to form one large synovial cavity. If this process is incomplete, plicae remain as four folds or bands of synovial tissue within the knee. Injury, chronic overuse, or inflammatory conditions are associated with this syndrome.
Quadriceps muscle
The large thigh muscle that comes down from the femur and over the patella, and then anchors into the top of the tibia. Its function is to straighten the leg.
Quadriceps tendon
The tendon that connects the quadriceps muscle to the patella and provides the power to extend the leg.
Rheumatic diseases
Characterized by signs of inflammation (redness, heat, swelling, pain) and loss of function of joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and/or muscles. Some rheumatic diseases can also involve internal organs.
A doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and related disorders.
Rheumatoid arthritis
A disease in which the immune system is believed to attack the linings of the joints. This results in joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and destruction.
The membrane lining the joints, the synovium produces joint fluid.
The flexible but tough connective tissue that attaches muscles to bones.
The shin bone or larger bone of the lower leg. The tibia is one of three bones (the other two are the femur and the patella) that join to form the knee joint.
X-ray (radiography)
A procedure in which an x-ray (highenergy radiation with waves shorter than those of visible light) beam is passed through the knee to produce a two dimensional picture of the bones. X-rays are often used in diagnosing knee problems.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health,
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
Key Words for Knee Problems

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