Background: The radiolucent zones in the patella are sometimes observed in patients who have undergone total knee arthroplasty (TKA) without patellar resurfacing. On the basis of radiological findings from our clinical experience, we hypothesize that the pathogenesis of this lesion may be similar to that of the lesions of spontaneous osteonecrosis, and this lesion may be due to both osteoporosis and stress concentration. The present study aimed to determine the incidence of the radiolucent zone after TKA without patellar resurfacing. Moreover, the roles of osteoporosis and patellar morphology, which are related to the stress distribution in the patella, were also investigated. Methods: We studied 48 knees of 38 patients who underwent primary TKA using the Genesis II prosthesis. Axial radiographs taken 1 year postoperatively were used to assess the incidence of the radiolucent zone. The World Health Organization fracture risk assessment tool (FRAX) score and the preoperative patellar facet angle were compared between patients with and without the radiolucent zones. Results: Five patellae (10.4 %) showed the radiolucent zones postoperatively (the radiolucent group), whereas no such lesions were found in the remaining 43 patellae (the normal group). The major osteoporotic fracture risk of the radiolucent group calculated using the FRAX was 24.8 % and significantly higher than that in the normal group (14.7 %; p = 0.01). The average patellar facet angle in the radiolucent group was 123.6°, which was significantly smaller than that in the normal group (133.6°; p = 0.003). Discussion and conclusions: The results of the present study suggest that both underlying osteoporosis and a steep patellar facet angle may play an important role in the pathogenesis of the radiolucent zones in patellae after TKA without patellar resurfacing. Patellar resurfacing may be considered, particularly in osteoporotic patients who have a steep patellar facet angle, to avoid the appearance of the postoperative radiolucent zone in the patella.