This is the editor's interpretation of a paper published in the orthopaedic literature in 2000 - our attempt to make relevant medical articles accessible to lay readers. If you wish to read the original it is easy to ask your librarian to obtain a reprint for you from any medical library.

Lateral Stabilizing Structures of the Knee: Functional Anatomy and Injuries Assessed with MR Imaging.

Recondo JA, Salvador E, Villanúa JA, Barrera MC, Gervás C and Alústiza JM. Radiographics. 2000;20:S91-S102.

Continuing instability after cruciate ligament reconstruction may be the result of a missed complex lateral tear. The KNEEguru editorial team offers an interpretation of this medical paper by a group of Spanish doctors who use a neat model to explain the mechanics of these complex instabilities.

knee ligaments

The stability of the knee depends on the integrity of a number of structures around the knee -

  • The central cruciate ligaments
  • The capsule or fibrous envelope around the joint
  • A number of ligaments, ie. Fibrous supports linking bone to bone or meniscus to bone
  • A number of tendons, i.e the fibrous ends of muscles where they attach to bone
  • A flattened fibrous band (fascia), called the ilio-tibial band, running on the outer aspect of the thigh from hip to tibia (upper shin)

To understand the clinical scenario when several of these are simultaneously disrupted in an injury it is useful to consider the knee in terms of quadrants around a central pivot area.

Imagine that you are looking down at the top of the tibia from above and you have divided the tibial plateau into four quadrants around a central pivot area.

quadrants of instability



If you look at it schematically, with several of the restraints positioned, it is easy to see what quadrant is unstable if a restraint is damaged -

AL - anterolateral AM - anteromedial Pl - posterolateral PM - posteromedial CP - central pivot

quadrants of instability

Although medial instabilities occur more frequently than lateral instabilities, they are more readily diagnosed and easier to treat. The difficult complex instabilities are those of the lateral quadrants -

The mechanism of injury in anterolateral instability is frequently a fall forward, with the foot on the ground twisted inward and the knee joint prised apart on the outer side towards the front.

The mechanism of injury in posterolateral instability is either -

  • A direct blow (eg kick) on the inner aspect of the knee while the foot on the ground is twisted outward, prising the knee apart at the outer side towards the back OR
  • The straight led being suddenly forced backwards (hyper-extension) while the foot on the ground is twisted inward.

Often missed...

The real issue of these complex lateral instabilities are that they are frequenly missed - the cruciate +/- collateral ligaments get surgically fixed up but instability continues to worry the patient and confound the inexperienced surgeon.

Diagnosing the true extent of the damage requires that both surgeon and radiologist consider the possibility of a complex situation, and the surgeon needs to alert the radiologist to this when ordering an MRI scan. MRI scans will reveal the tears, but the radiologist needs to request that the imaging be in three different planes, and he/she needs specialist anatomic knowledge to interpret the images.