How To Identify A Knee Cartilage Injury

Christopher C. Dodson, MD September 23rd, 2015

Have you experienced a knee injury?

 Does this injury impact your ability to walk or continue on with other everyday activities?  If so, you may have a knee cartilage injury.  Although these types of injuries are relatively common, it is important to get the facts so you can seek the proper treatment options for your condition. 

What is Knee Cartilage?

Cartilage is the firm, white, flexible connective tissue that covers the ends of the bones. It provides a smooth cushion, allowing the bones of the joint to move easily without painful contact. Although cartilage is tough, it can be damaged or degenerate for a number of reasons. When the knee cartilage is injured, the result can be painful and may begin to affect your mobility. 

Causes of a Knee Cartilage Injury

A knee cartilage injury can happen in a number of ways, either suddenly or from general wear and tear.  Specific incidents which may affect the knee cartilage can include:
  • Joint Dislocation: An injury in which a joint is forced out of its normal position.

  • Meniscus Tear: An injury, usually a forceful twist, which tears a particular piece of knee cartilage.

  • Impact: A fall or blow can dislocate or tear the cartilage. 

  • Infection: A condition called septic arthritis, involving inflammation of the joint.

  • Inflammation: Most forms of arthritis include this painful swelling which affects the cartilage 

Symptoms of a Knee Cartilage Injury

There are a number of different symptoms of a knee cartilage injury. Most injuries result in at least some degree of swelling and pain in the joint.  Other sensations may include a locking sensation in the knee, which interferes with the ability to stand or walk. In some of these injuries, a piece of cartilage or bone may become detached. This “loose body” can move about in the joint, and it may occasionally get stuck, which can be very painful. 
When diagnosing cartilage injuries like those mentioned above, the doctor will perform a physical exam and evaluate your symptoms. She or he may also order an MRI. Although cartilage does not show up on an X-ray, these images may be taken as well to determine whether there is any bone damage from the same injury as well. 

Treatment Options for Cartilage Injuries

Once a cartilage injury in the knee has been diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options that your doctor may recommend, depending upon the nature of your condition. Some common examples include: 
  • Non-Operative Treatments: For less severe injuries, some combination of non-operative treatment options can be effective to reduce pain and increase mobility. These options may include rest, lifestyle modification and weight loss, anti-inflammatory medication, or physical therapy. 

  • Arthroscopy: This surgical procedure can be used to “smooth” the injured cartilage. Although new cartilage cannot grow to take the place of the injured piece, scar tissue may appear; arthroscopy can smooth this out to promote a more natural, pain-free movement of the knee. 

  • Transplant: In cases where the cartilage cannot be repaired through arthroscopic surgery, it is possible to transplant some cartilage from an uninjured part of the knee. A similar option would be to remove some normal cartilage cells, reproduce them in a lab, and then later reimplant them into the damaged area so new cartilage will grow.

  • Knee Replacement: If more conservative treatment options are unsuccessful, and the cartilage in severely damaged or worn away, your doctor may talk with you about knee replacement. In this surgical procedure, the injured joint is removed and replaced by a prosthetic joint which can recreate healthy movement of the knee. 

Rothman Orthopaedic Institute
If you would like more information about these or other potential treatment options for a knee cartilage injury, contact Rothman Orthopaedic Institute today. Our team of knee specialists is dedicated to providing the best possible care to patients like you. To make an appointment, or for more information, please visit us here or contact us at 1-800-321-9999.

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