Patella: Definition, Location & Function

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
This lesson goes over the definition, location, and function of the patella. You'll learn how to spot it as well as some of the proposed reasons for its existence.

What is the Patella?

Do you like sesame seeds? Well, if you do, you're in luck. You're about to learn a bit about the body's largest sesame seed. Well, sort of. See, the word 'sesamoid' refers to something of roughly the shape of a sesame seed.

When we talk about sesamoid bones, we are talking about very small bones that are embedded in a tendon near a joint. The largest such sesamoid bone in your body is the patella, better known as the kneecap. Unlike a sesame seed, it's anything but small, but it does have the rough shape of one.

Let's learn a bit about the patella in this lesson, namely its location and function.

Location

So where is this humongous bony sesame seed located in the body? It is found inside of the continuation of the tendon of the quadriceps femoris muscle, better known as your 'quads'. This continuation is known as the patellar ligament. While this tells you exactly where it is, if you don't know where the quadriceps femoris tendon is, then this doesn't help you much, now does it?

So let's do this another way. Find your knee joint as you're sitting down. Place your hand smack in the middle of the front of your knee joint. Now lift your lower leg up towards the ceiling. Do you feel that tight band in the middle of your knee joint getting even tighter as you do so?

That's the patellar ligament, the continuation of the quadriceps femoris tendon running from the upper leg towards the lower leg, where it attaches to immediately below the knee joint. If you move your hand along the leg towards your head from there just a tad, you'll feel a kind of round bone. That's the patella.

More properly, we say that the patella is located anterior to the femoral condyles (distal femur). This means it is located in front of (anterior to) two projections (the femoral condyles), which are part of the distal femur (thigh bone). By distal, we mean the point of the femur that is furthest away from the center of the body. In other words, it's the part of the femur located right above knee joint.

The patella, patellar ligament, and quadricep tendon can be seen here.
The patella, patellar ligament, and quadricep tendon can be seen here.

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