A Bone That Disappeared Centuries Ago Is Back And Hurts Us

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A Bone That Disappeared Centuries Ago Is Back And Hurts Us
A Bone That Disappeared Centuries Ago Is Back And Hurts Us

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A bone that disappeared centuries ago is back and hurts us

The fabella or sesamoid bone of the lateral head of the gastrocnemius muscle was once almost lost by humans in the course of evolution. Its gradual return over the past century has come as a surprise to scientists.

A bone that disappeared centuries ago is back and hurts us
A bone that disappeared centuries ago is back and hurts us

Photo: Berthaume et al., Journal of Anatomy /

The fabella or sesamoid bone of the lateral head of the gastrocnemius muscle was once almost lost by humans in the course of evolution. Its gradual return over the past century has come as a surprise to scientists.

The new data, published in the Journal of Anatomy, may help doctors treat patients with knee problems, as well as providing information on late human evolution. Fabella, which is located in the thickness of the knee tendons, is associated with pain in the knee joint.

A study by researchers at Imperial College London has shown that fabella is increasingly common in humans. The authors reviewed 21,000 studies of the knee joint over nearly 150 years. The results showed that from 1918 to 2018, the frequency of its occurrence tripled. The knee joints of 21,676 people from 27 countries were studied.

The analysis showed that in 1918, fabella was found in 11.2 percent of the world's population, and in 2018 - in 39 percent, that is, its prevalence increased three and a half times.

Professor Michael Berthaume, lead author of the study, said that it is currently unknown what the function of the fabella is, because no one has addressed the issue. This bone is located in the tendon of the patellar muscle and is the largest sesamoid bone in the body.

“Fabella, like other sesamoid bones, can serve to reduce friction between tendons by redistributing muscle force, or, as in the case of the patella, to increase this force. She can also do nothing,”said Berthaum.

Having a fabella has its drawbacks. It is twice as likely to be found in people with osteoarthritis. However, it is not known whether it is the cause of disease, and if so, how. It can also cause pain and discomfort by itself and interfere with joint replacement surgery.

Perhaps the new data will have practical application in the treatment of knee joint diseases.

Scientists write that fabella can probably be called a skeletal appendix. In the ancient world, fabella could serve as an analogue of the kneecap to monkeys, strengthening the muscles. But over time, with the course of evolution, the bone began to disappear. Now, apparently, it only causes problems. However, why she "returned" remains a mystery.

Scientists see a possible answer to this riddle in the nature of people's diet. They found data that said it was one of the factors that changed the most over the time covered by the study. People began to eat better, they became taller and heavier. Sesamoid bones appear in response to mechanical stimulation.

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