What is a Condyle?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A condyle is a rounded protrusion at the end of a bone which is designed to facilitate articulation with another bone. One of the most famous examples of a condyle is the knuckle; the knuckles of the hands are wide because the finger bones flare out to form condyles to articulate with the neighboring bones. The rounded projection is designed to stabilize and strengthen the joint, while also providing a smooth and even point of articulation.

A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing a condyle at the end.
A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing a condyle at the end.

Another notable condyle is the lateral condyle and its paired projection, the medial condyle, seen on the tibia and the femur. These protrusions account for the distinctive shapes of both bones, and act as points of attachments for muscles and tendons which work together to give the joint a range of movement. Another example is the mandibular condyle, located on the jaw bone and allowing it to articulate with the rest of the skull.

The most famous example of a condyle is the knuckle.
The most famous example of a condyle is the knuckle.

Fractures of the condyle can occur with some types of trauma to the bone. In some cases it may be possible for the bone to recover with casting, but in other instances, surgery is needed to stabilize the joint. For severe fractures, it may be necessary to put in an artificial joint replacement, severing the end of the bone to anchor an artificial joint in place. This is also done when the ends of the joints are badly damaged by arthritis and other degenerative conditions.

Rest and casting are sometimes enough to allow a condyle fracture to heal on its own.
Rest and casting are sometimes enough to allow a condyle fracture to heal on its own.

Damage to this area of the bone can be identified with medical imaging studies. These studies may be ordered by a doctor if a patient shows signs of damage to the condyles, or if a patient is at risk of damage, as for example in certain types of fractures. The area can also be examined surgically if signs of damage are unclear on an x-ray or similar image and a doctor wants to confirm or rule out damage.

The knuckle condyle is designed to stabilize and strengthen the joint.
The knuckle condyle is designed to stabilize and strengthen the joint.

As bones grow, the epiphysis at the end of the bone, which includes the condyle, starts out being formed primarily of cartilage to give the bone room to grow and develop. Over time, the epiphyseal plate, as it is known, ossifies or hardens and turns into an epiphyseal line. This can used to date bones, as the ossification of the bone occurs at a steady and known rate as people develop. Older adults do not need growth plates, because they are no longer growing, and thus ossification in their bones will be complete.

Condyle fractures may be diagnosed with medical imaging studies.
Condyle fractures may be diagnosed with medical imaging studies.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

snickerish

@Saraq90 - I hear you! Doctor-speak can be hard to follow sometimes.

I'm glad to hear your arthritis is just in your knees, but I have a family member with arthritis and let me tell you - be vigilant about your arthritis.

Depending on the type of arthritis, it can affect not only your condyle area but the muscles surrounding your joints. So be watchful of any changes in your pain.

Saraq90

My doctor was always saying that arthritis was always going to occur where my condyles were. I never understood what he was saying! Now I know that it just makes logical sense for arthritis to occur where the condyles are because arthritis occurs where bone movement occurs. I wish he would have just said that!

Luckily it seems the condyle of the knee is the only affected condyle so far.

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