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Home >> Specialities >> Arthroscopy & Sports Medicine >> Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage is a remarkable tissue that cushions and supports our joints, allowing for smooth, pain-free movement. However, when cartilage is injured, it can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced joint function.
Cartilage is a connective tissue found throughout the body, primarily in joints such as the knees, hips, shoulders, and ankles. It provides a smooth, gliding surface that allows bones to move against each other with minimal friction. There are three main types of cartilage in the body:

  • Hyaline Cartilage: This is the most common type of cartilage and covers the ends of bones in joints, providing a low-friction surface.
  • Fibrocartilage: Fibrocartilage is found in areas that require extra support and shock absorption, such as the meniscus in the knee joint.
  • Elastic Cartilage: Elastic cartilage is highly flexible and found in structures like the external ear and the epiglottis.

Causes of Cartilage Injuries
Cartilage injuries can occur due to various factors, including:

  • Trauma: A direct blow or impact to a joint can damage the cartilage.
  • Overuse: Repetitive use or excessive stress on a joint, common in athletes, can lead to cartilage wear and tear.
  • Aging: As we age, cartilage naturally degenerates, making it more susceptible to injury.
  • Genetic Factors: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to cartilage problems.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight can increase the risk of cartilage injuries, especially in weight-bearing joints like the knees.

Types of Cartilage Injuries
Cartilage injuries can take several forms, including:

  • Chondromalacia Patellae: This is a softening and breakdown of the cartilage on the underside of the kneecap (patella). It is often associated with knee pain, especially in young adults.
  • Cartilage Tears: Tears in the cartilage, such as meniscus tears in the knee or labral tears in the shoulder, can occur due to trauma or degeneration.
  • Osteoarthritis: While not an injury in the traditional sense, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that involves the gradual loss of cartilage, leading to joint pain and dysfunction.

Symptoms of Cartilage Injuries
The symptoms of cartilage injuries can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Joint pain is a hallmark symptom of cartilage injuries.
  • Swelling: Swelling around the affected joint may occur due to inflammation.
  • Stiffness: Reduced range of motion and joint stiffness can be present.
  • Catching or Locking: In some cases, cartilage injuries can cause joints to catch or lock during movement.
  • Grinding Sensation: A sensation of grinding or popping in the joint may occur.

Diagnosis of Cartilage Injuries
Diagnosing cartilage injuries typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests, including:

  • Physical Examination: A healthcare provider will assess the joint's range of motion, stability, and tenderness.
  • Imaging: X-rays can provide information about the bones and any changes related to cartilage injury. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is more useful for evaluating soft tissues like cartilage.
  • Arthroscopy: A minimally invasive procedure involving a small camera inserted into the joint to directly visualize and diagnose cartilage injuries.

Treatment Options
The treatment of cartilage injuries varies depending on the type, location, and severity of the injury. Common approaches include:

  • Conservative Management: Rest, physical therapy, and pain management can help alleviate symptoms in mild cases.
  • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: Injections of corticosteroids into the joint can provide short-term relief from pain and inflammation.
  • Viscosupplementation: Injections of hyaluronic acid into the joint can improve lubrication and reduce pain, primarily for osteoarthritis.
  • Physical Therapy: Therapeutic exercises can help improve joint strength, stability, and function.
  • Surgery: In more severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. Procedures like arthroscopy can be used to repair or remove damaged cartilage. In cases of advanced osteoarthritis, joint replacement surgery may be recommended.

Prognosis and Outlook
The prognosis for cartilage injuries depends on several factors, including the type and location of the injury, the individual's age, and the promptness of treatment. Mild cartilage injuries can often be managed successfully with conservative measures, while more severe injuries may require surgery.
Cartilage injuries can be a source of pain and reduced joint function, affecting individuals of all ages. Understanding the causes, types, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for cartilage injuries is essential for both healthcare providers and patients. Early diagnosis and appropriate management can significantly improve outcomes and help individuals regain their mobility and quality of life.

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