During knee flexion, the human patella moves along a complex path resulting from the combined actions of articular contact and soft-tissue stabilization. The current study is an attempt to characterize the role of these soft structures on patellar kinematics. To this end, the three-dimensional patellar motion during full knee flexion was accurately measured before and after partial dissection of the joint. The guiding role of the femoral groove prevailed over soft-tissue action through most of the range of motion. At full extension, however, when the patella and the femur were not in contact, the influence of the retinaculi was most noticeable, highlighting the unstable behavior of the patella near extension. The differences between the intact and dissected knee kinematics suggested that control over patellar motion is ensured by the transverse soft-tissue structures near extension and by the patellofemoral joint geometry during further flexion.