What is cartilage?

Nearly every joint in your body is made up of surfaces that allow incredibly smooth almost motion. This allows you to painlessly bend your elbow, your knee, or move your hip. These surfaces are made up of water and a spongy, springy living material called ‘cartilage’. A little different from the cartilage in your nose or ear, the cartilage in a joint is designed to take wear and tear for a lifetime. This cartilage is maintained by specialized cells, called chondrocytes, that help repair damage to the joint.

Cartilage Injury

Articular CartilageWith this is in mind, a cartilage injury is damage to the joint surface that your body cannot repair on its own. This can happen many ways. In a young athlete, a twisting knee injury or fall can cause the cartilage to flake off. In an adult the cartilage can become damaged over time as it slowly wears away like a car tire.

Regardless of cause, both are cartilage injuries that can cause pain – pain with walking, standing or moving. Often there is no pain at rest. A good MRI study can find these injuries. Knee pain can be caused by many things, and a good exam in the office is important to help figure it out.

There are many ways to repair cartilage injuries. If you have a cartilage injury or know someone who does, please let me know.

Dr. Scott Hacker is a Sports Medicine Orthopedic Surgeon in San Diego, CA, and Team Surgeon to the US Olympic Team. He specializes in sports medicine and sports injuries, knee and shoulder surgery.
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