The cartilage is a flexible connective tissue found throughout the body. Its main functions are to hold bones together and serve as a shock absorber to facilitate frictionless movements between joints to prevent damage, especially when stretching or bending. The cartilage does not have blood vessels, which aid in cell repair, and so its healing is relatively slower than other tissues. Damage in the cartilage is typically caused by overuse, wear and tear, injury or illnesses, and affects weight-bearing joints like the knees and ankles.
Cartilage injury is very common, often affecting the meniscus and articular cartilage found in the knee joint.
A meniscus injury refers to tears in the meniscus cartilage, which cushions and reduces friction between the thigh and shin bones. Tears are produced when excessive pressure is placed on the knee joint, or when the joint is moved or twisted suddenly, usually during high-impact sports.
Another common cartilage injury is damage to the articular or hyaline cartilage. Similar to meniscus tears, this form of damage results from direct trauma and wear and tear. It can also be caused by degenerative ailments like osteoarthritis.
Left untreated, both meniscus tears and articular cartilage injury can cause severe knee pain, inflammation and immobility.
Knee cartilage injuries typically result from a sudden or direct blow or twist to the cartilage. Athletes and those who actively participate in high-impact sports, both contact or non-contact, have a higher risk of getting meniscus tears or other cartilage trauma from tissue overuse.
Aside from chronic overuse, cartilage damage also occurs naturally with age through wear and tear. The tissues in the knees gradually become worn out and more susceptible to tearing. The risk of damage is particularly higher for those who are overweight or born with a physical joint defect.
Certain illnesses also lead to the deterioration of knee cartilage. The most common example is osteoarthritis, which is characterized by the gradual breakdown of the cartilage in the joints. Other common ailments that produce the same effect include autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Gouty arthritis of the knee is also one of the more rare causes of knee pain.
The most telling symptom of knee cartilage injury is consistent joint pain that does not subside with rest or worsens with time or when pressure is applied. Other symptoms are:
Minor cartilage injuries go away on their own and can be treated using self-care methods. Severe cases, however, will require urgent medical care, which includes medications, physiotherapy and surgery.
For mild to moderate cases of knee cartilage injury, orthopaedic surgeons and healthcare providers prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve symptoms of knee pain. Some medicines may also be administered to stop the progression of damage done to the cartilage.
Additionally, physiotherapy, home treatments and lifestyle changes are recommended to help the patient manage the pain and better facilitate healing. Supportive devices such as crutches, canes and leg braces can be used to avoid putting extra pressure on the affected knee.
Serious cartilage injuries that cannot be managed by physical therapy and medications may require surgery. Depending on the symptoms manifested and the severity of the pain and damage, options available include the total replacement of the injured cartilage, or naturally stimulating the body to regrow new cartilage. These include:
Alternatively, knee and hip replacements may be done for more serious conditions.
Ardmore Orthopaedic Clinic offers a comprehensive list of diagnostic and treatment options for a range of orthopaedic conditions such as fractures, neck and back pain, sports injuries, arthritis, and foot and and ankle problems. Headed by Dr Sean Ng, we deliver specialized services for the management of cartilage injuries and knee pain. Call 9631-7637 to schedule an appointment.