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Knee (lateral view)

Andrew Murphy et al.

The lateral knee view is an orthogonal view of the AP view of the knee. The projection requires the patient to 'roll' onto the side of their knee, hence it is not an appropriate projection in trauma, in all suspected traumatic injuries of the knee, the horizontal beam lateral method should be utilized. 

This is often performed on bed-bound patients with suspected arthritis, it is an orthogonal view of the AP projection and demonstrate the joint space, yet sacrifices any assessment of fluid levels. 

  • the patient is laying on side of interest with the knee of interest closest to the table and the other lower limb rolled anteriorly
  • affect knee is flexed slightly ≈ 30° (to the best of patient's ability) 
  • medial-lateral projection
  • centering point
    • center to the knee joint 1.5-2.0 cm distal to the apex of the patella or at the tibial tuberosity if the patella is affected by certain injury patterns
  • collimation
    • superior to include the distal femur
    • inferior to include the proximal tibia/fibula
    • anterior to include the skin margin 
    • posterior to include skin margin
  • orientation  
    • landscape
  • detector size
    • 35 cm x 43 cm
  • exposure
    • 60-70 kVp
    • 7-10 mAs
  • SID
    • 100 cm
  • grid
    • no

A true lateral projection will have the following characteristic:

  • superimposition of the medial and lateral condyles of the distal femur 
  • an open patellofemoral joint space 
  • slight superimposition of the fibular head with the tibia 

It is easy to describe how a lateral knee should turn out, that is everything should superimpose. To achieve this can be technically demanding.

The distal femoral condyles have distinct features that can be used for differentiation and hence positional errors that can be corrected. The medial condyle has a medial adductor tubercle whilst the lateral condyle has a lateral condylopatellar sulcus. 

When the resultant image does not demonstrate superimposition of the two condyles in the rotational plane, look out for these anatomical landmarks to determine if the knee needs to be externally or internally rotated. 

  • figure 2 demonstrates the medial condyle's adductor tubercle free from superimposition in the posterior portion of the image, and this means the leg is internally rotated too much. Correct this by externally rotating the leg
  • when the medial adductor tubercle is projected overly anterior to the lateral condyle the leg can be internally rotated to adjust it

To summarize, if the medial adductor tubercle is not superimposed, projecting posteriorly in the image rotate the knee externally

If the lateral condyle significantly superimposes the medial adductor tubercle the knee must be internally rotated.

When the femoral condyles are projected unevenly in the inferior-superior plane, this is due to tube angle. This can be challenging to correct, but it's best only to change one factor; modify the tube angle do not move the patient and vice versa. 

Using the anatomical landmarks discussed above find the medial adductor tubercle, and establish the medial condyle.

  • when the medial condyle is projected superior to the lateral condyle, the tube should be angle caudal  
  • medial condyle is projected inferior (figure 3) to the lateral condyle a cephalad angle is required

For an interactive case exploring these concepts see here

Radiographic views

Article information

rID: 72198
Section: Radiography
Tag: refs, refs
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Lateral knee xray
  • Lateral knee radiograph
  • Lateral knee x-ray
  • Rolled knee lateral

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: normal lateral knee
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  • Figure 2: medial adductor tubercle in profile
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  • Figure 3: projection requiring caudal angle
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  • Figure 3: annotated case
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