The Anterolateral Complex of the Knee

Orthop J Sports Med. 2017 Oct 6;5(10):2325967117730805. doi: 10.1177/2325967117730805. eCollection 2017 Oct.


Background: Significant controversy exists regarding the anterolateral structures of the knee.

Purpose: To determine the layer-by-layer anatomic structure of the anterolateral complex of the knee.

Study design: Descriptive laboratory study.

Methods: Twenty fresh-frozen cadaveric knees (age range, 38-56 years) underwent a layer-by-layer dissection to systematically expose and identify the various structures of the anterolateral complex. Quantitative measurements were performed, and each layer was documented with high-resolution digital imaging.

Results: The anterolateral complex of the knee consisted of different distinct layers, with the superficial and deep iliotibial band (ITB) representing layer 1. The superficial ITB had a distinct connection to the distal femoral metaphysis and femoral condyle (Kaplan fibers), and the deep layers of the ITB were identified originating at the level of the Kaplan fibers proximally. This functional unit, consisting of the superficial and deep ITB, was reinforced by the capsulo-osseous layer of the ITB, which was continuous with the fascia of the lateral gastrocnemius and biceps femoris muscles. These 3 components of the ITB became confluent distally, and the insertion spanned from the Gerdy tubercle anteriorly to the lateral tibia posteriorly on a small tubercle (lateral tibial tuberosity). Layer 3 consisted of the anterolateral capsule, in which 35% (7/20) of specimens had a discreet mid-third capsular ligament.

Conclusion: The anterolateral complex consists of the superficial and deep ITB, the capsulo-osseous layer of the ITB, and the anterolateral capsule. The anterolateral complex is defined by the part of the ITB between the Kaplan fibers proximally and its tibial insertion, which forms a functional unit. A discrete anterolateral ligament was not observed; however, the anterolateral ligament described in recent studies likely refers to the capsulo-osseous layer or the mid-third capsular ligament.

Clinical relevance: The anterolateral knee structures form a complex functional unit. Surgeons should use caution when attempting to restore this intricate structure with extra-articular procedures designed to re-create a single discreet ligament.

Keywords: ITB; anatomy; anterolateral; capsule; capsulo-osseous layer; iliotibial band; knee; pivot shift.