What are the Top Cartilage Injury Treatments Recommended by Orthopaedists?

Bradford S. Tucker, MD October 14th, 2016

Top Orthopaedists weigh in on Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage in the knee is the protective covering that lets our joints glide comfortably. When a quick twist or sudden impact causes a tear, we realize the crucial job it does for our joints. When this type of trauma happens, it can be confusing to decide on treatment. At Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, we believe that education is an integral part of your recovery plan, and as such, our expert orthopaedists would like to offer their insights into some of the best cartilage injury treatments available today.

What is Cartilage and How is it Injured?

Cartilage is a smooth, slippery tissue that lines your joints so that your bones don’t rub against each other when you move. Cartilage comes in a few types, including articular cartilage, which lines moving surfaces, and the meniscuses in your knees, which absorb impacts and support your full body weight.

Articular cartilage injury can happen in a number of ways. These include rips and tears, such as from sport, lifting or motion injuries, and basic wear injuries, either from impacts or long term erosion. While any kind of cartilage can be injured, those most commonly injured are those in important weight bearing joints, such as your hips and knees.

What Are the Symptoms of a Cartilage Injury?

Cartilage exists all over the body, and therefore the symptoms of injury differ depending on where the tissue has been torn. When talking about the cartilage in your joints, symptoms often include pain, swelling, decreased range of motion, and deformity, as well as catching, locking, or clicking in the affected joint. At the time of cartilage injury, you may feel a pop or tear.

If the trauma is not acute, but rather from long term erosion, it is referred to as Degenerative Joint Disease, or osteoarthritis. The symptoms are similar, but involve more pain, swelling, deformity, decreased range of motion, and in some cases warmth of the skin around the joint, though catching, locking, and clicking are still possible. If you have arthritis joints, the cartilage injury treatments available for your condition will be different from those suffering from an immediate trauma or tear.

What Kind of Cartilage Injury Treatments Are Available Today?

As medical science and research continue to advance, so do cartilage injury treatments. While cartilage does not regrow or replace itself, it can be repaired or supplanted by a few different treatment options. Many cartilage injuries can be treated without surgery, via physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medication. This is especially true if you have a sedentary to moderately active lifestyle. For those who are more active, or for whom less invasive treatments have been ineffective, surgical treatment to physically repair, remove, or replace the injured tissue may be in order. An articular cartilage injury where the tissue has been torn can be surgically reattached to itself or the bone, while cartilage that has worn away over time may require replacement with a prosthetic.

Cartilage injury treatments your orthopaedist might recommend include:

Non-surgical Treatments
If your injury is not severe, or if you have a less active lifestyle, non-surgical treatment can be a terrific option for dealing with an articular cartilage injury. Your doctor may prescribe rest, ice, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or physical therapy to get your joints back in working order. These steps are very effective for many patients, and have the benefit of requiring less recovery time than surgical cartilage injury treatments.

Microfracture Treatment
If you are suffering from an injury where there are one or more pits or holes in your articular cartilage, your physician may recommend microfracture surgery. During this procedure, the doctor makes small holes in the bone to encourage growth of a protective scar tissue. While this tissue will not be exactly the same as your original cartilage, it can fill in holes and return your joint to former levels of functionality and comfort.

Cartilage Replacement
There are two types of common cartilage replacement surgery, autologous chondrocyte implantation, and osteochondral transplant. Autologous chondrocyte implantation involves two surgeries. The first removes a small piece of your own healthy cartilage to be grown in a lab into new cartilage cells. The second involves transplanting those cells back into your joint, and securing them with a membrane to let them heal into the existing tissue. Osteochondral transplant is the direct transplantation or healthy tissue either from your own existing cartilage elsewhere, or from a donor.

Cartilage Repair
Sometimes torn cartilage can be physically sutured back together to form an effective repair. This is frequently used for meniscus tears, in which the cushioning cartilage in the knee is torn or even broken off. Repair works best in cases where there is a clean, even tear in the tissue that can be arthroscopically reattached.

Removal of Floating Bodies
Sometimes, when a cartilage injury occurs, part of the tissue may completely detach and be trapped in the joint. In these cases, the floating tissue may need to be removed from the joint to prevent catching, locking, and loss of joint function.

Arthritic Cartilage Injuries
If the injury to your cartilage is caused by Degenerative Joint Disease, and non-surgical treatments are no longer controlling your pain, your doctor may recommend replacing the surface of your joints with an artificial implant called a prosthesis.

Who Should I Talk to About Cartilage Injury Treatments?

Rothman Orthopaedic Institute has dedicated, experienced orthopaedists who can help you learn about your treatment options and decide which possibilities are best for your condition.

For more information, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

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