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What does "Tibial Tuberosity" Mean?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The tibial tuberosity is the bony protrusion at the top of the tibia bone in the lower leg. It is located just underneath the kneecap and can be easily felt with the hand. Several important ligaments and cartilage structures are connected to the protrusion to provide stability, cushioning, and flexibility to the knee during physical activity. Acute or chronic injury to the area can result in significant leg pain and stiffness. If the bone and surrounding structures are damaged, medications, physical therapy, or surgery may be needed.

The tibia is the larger of two bones in the lower leg, and it is responsible for bearing weight and absorbing force when jumping, turning, and stopping. The tibial tuberosity, which is connected to the knee by the ligamentum patellae, aids in the joint's ability to bend and straighten. In infancy, the tuberosity is primarily composed of cartilage and other types of soft tissue that gradually ossify throughout early childhood. A growth plate underneath the bump allows the tibia to fully develop and the protrusion to become solid bone by adulthood.

Problems with this part of the tibia are almost exclusive to children and adolescents, since the bone is most susceptible to injury while it is still developing. A chronic childhood disorder called Osgood-Schlatter disease can occur if frequent strain is placed on the lower legs. Children who play high-intensity sports such as basketball, football, and tennis constantly put stress on their knees, which can cause this part of the bone to swell. Osgood-Schlatter disease typically results in chronic pain, tenderness, and loss of flexibility.

A young person's tibial tuberosity can also be fractured due to a bad fall or blunt trauma to the leg. Fractures are typically very painful and swelling underneath the knee can be severe. It is possible for an adult to suffer a fracture as well, but it is much less common.

An individual who has pain and swelling under the knee should be evaluated by a medical proessional. Osgood-Schlatter disease can often be managed by limiting physical activity, taking anti-inflammatory medications, and wearing a supportive knee brace. Fractures typically require leg casts and up to six months of rest. Surgery may be necessary if the bone is severely fractured or if the ligamentum patellae is damaged. Children and adolescents who are treated for fractures often need to attend physical therapy sessions during recovery. With effective treatment, most people are able to overcome leg problems entirely by adulthood.

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Discussion Comments

By anon274909 — On Jun 14, 2012

I have patella alta. Which surgery should I get? I hate my problem and I cannot stand it anymore, because I'm a dancer and each time I dance, I have the impression that both my kneecaps are about to dislocate.

I'm wondering if it's right to cut the "straight ligament of the patella" in the middle, after that sewing it, instead the usual lowering of tibial tuberosity. I'll wait for an answer.

By seag47 — On Jun 26, 2011

@cloudel - Yes, he even set me up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. Well, you know how hard it is to get an appointment with a specialist quickly. The quickest he could work me in was over a month away from the date of the accident.

I had fully intended to go to my appointment, but my flexibility and pain level improved so much that within a few days of the scheduled date, I called to cancel it.

By cloudel — On Jun 23, 2011

@seag47 - Did the physician recommend that you see an orthopedic surgeon? I work in an emergency room and that would be part of our normal procedure.

By seag47 — On Jun 22, 2011

I experienced pain in my tibial tuberosity after a wreck. My dad and I were taking my weimaraner to the vet, and I was sitting in the back seat with the dog in my lap. I figured she formed a natural seatbelt, since she weighed nearly 100 pounds, so I did not bother to buckle the real one.

Well, someone pulled out directly in front of us on a highway with a speed limit of 65. My dad swerved and braked, but he could not avoid hitting the van. Everyone suffered some injuries (except the dog).

The dog had rolled off my lap onto the floor upon impact, and my knee had slammed into the back of the driver's seat. It would be awhile before I would walk normally again, and the hospital physician feared I had a tibial tuberosity avulsion fracture. However, I recovered much more quickly than they predicted.

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