Cartilage is firm, connective tissue that has many purposes throughout the body. The purpose of cartilage that’s at the end of bones (articular cartilage) is to allow for smooth joint movement without friction. While this tissue is fairly durable, it can become damaged from injury or due to certain inflammation-based conditions such as arthritis. When cartilage damage occurs, you may experience joint pain, difficulty with movement and flexibility, and swelling.
What Symptoms May Be Experienced?
Since damage to cartilage often occurs slowly, it’s not unusual for symptoms to start off mild and become increasingly distracting over time. Knees and shoulders are commonly affected areas, although any joint may be affected, including those that support the spine (facet joints). Symptoms experienced from damaged cartilage may include:
• Inflammation that results in redness or swelling
• Joint stiffness
• Difficulty with mobility or range of motion
• Warmth or tenderness in the affected area
• Pain associated with movement
What Causes Cartilage Damage?
The most common cause of damage to cartilage is wear and tear. This sometimes happens naturally with age or it may occur due to repetitious movements associated with certain sports and activities such as tennis, golf, and running. The progressive loss of cartilage may also be the result of underlying conditions like diabetes and arthritis affecting joints (osteoarthritis). Damage to cartilage may also be the result of:
• Stress on joints from excess body weight
• Heavy impacts or direct blows
• Long periods of immobility or inactivity
How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?
Diagnosis of suspected issues with damaged cartilage typically involves a physical examination and review of symptoms experienced. An MRI scan is often done to determine if the source of discomfort is problems with cartilage or issues with tendons, ligaments, or muscles. An arthroscopy is sometimes performed to look inside of the joint to identify the extent of the damage to cartilage. Possible treatment options include:
• Physical therapy exercises
• NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
• Steroid injections
• Debridement (surgical smoothing of damaged cartilage)
• Replacement of damaged cartilage with healthy cartilage from another area (mosaicplasty)
• Surgical stimulation of new cartilage growth (marrow stimulation)
The role of an orthopaedic specialist is to help patients determine the source of damage to cartilage, recommend ways to repair the damage, and offer suggestions on how to prevent or minimize future damage to cartilage and joints. If you think you may experiencing pain due to cartilage damage, contact Orthopaedic Specialists to schedule an appointment.