What is articular cartilage damage of the knee?
Articular cartilage is the term for the layer of cartilage that covers the ends of bones and helps to protect the joint. This type of cartilage is found throughout the body, including on the knee joints. As the function of articular cartilage is to allow for smooth motion, damage in the knees can lead to aches, stiffness and difficulty moving.
If you are dealing with articular cartilage damage in the knees, or are researching potential causes of pain and mobility problems, the following information can help. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about treatment options at USA Spine Care, please feel free to reach out at any time.
Primary causes of articular cartilage damage
Articular cartilage is also known as hyaline cartilage and is the most common type of cartilage in the body. It coats the ends of bones in the joints, and combined with lubricating joint fluid, enables the joint surfaces to move across each other without friction. Although cartilage is designed to be tough yet flexible, it can become damaged due to a number of circumstances.
The most common causes are:
- Natural degeneration — Due to the aging process, cartilage dries out and becomes brittle over time. Combined with everyday stresses on the articular cartilage, this causes it to wear away and increase joint friction. The resulting inflammation is typically diagnosed as osteoarthritis.
- Injury — Traumatic or repetitive motion injuries can also directly cause articular cartilage damage. This often occurs in conjunction with injuries such as ligament tears. Although cartilage can heal on its own, the lack of blood supply to the area can make this difficult.
Certain diseases may also result in articular cartilage damage, especially autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis that cause the body’s immune system to attack healthy cells such as joint cartilage.
Symptoms of knee articular cartilage damage
Cartilage damage may not be painful in and of itself, but symptoms can develop as a result of increased friction between bones. The resulting inflammation and bone damage can lead to the following symptoms:
- Knee stiffness
- Locking of the knee joint
- Aches and pains
- Cracking, popping and grinding sensations
Articular cartilage tends to be progressive in nature, which means it can worsen over time. This is why receiving a prompt diagnosis and beginning a treatment plan for any of the above symptoms is so important.
Receiving a diagnosis for knee articular cartilage damage
When meeting with a doctor to diagnose any knee joint symptoms, it is very helpful to come as prepared as possible. A typical evaluation will consist of a discussion and question and answer session about what you are experiencing and how it is affecting your lifestyle. Writing down your specific symptoms, when you experience and what seems to bring them about can help your doctor identify your specific condition more quickly.
Other diagnostic steps should include:
- Review of personal and family medical history
- Hands-on examination to find tender spots and test movement
- Diagnostic testing such as an X-ray, MRI and bloodwork
If articular cartilage damage is determined to be the underlying cause of symptoms, you and your doctor can work together to form a treatment plan.
Articular cartilage damage conservative treatments
While certain cases of knee cartilage damage can improve, many of the underlying causes, especially age-related degeneration, are not reversible. However, a conservative treatment plan combined with healthy lifestyle choices can be highly effective in managing symptoms and improving knee function while you and your doctor monitor the overall progress of the cartilage damage. Most treatment plans should include:
- Periods of rest
- Modifying activities to reduce stress on the knees
- Physical therapy to strengthen supporting muscles and increase range of motion
- Taking over-the-counter medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs as needed
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
- Getting regular exercise
When to consider knee surgery for articular cartilage damage
Surgery is almost always seen as a last resort treatment option for articular cartilage damage. Knee procedures can include arthroscopic procedures that can “clean out” the knee joint to reduce wear and tear on the knee and improve function as well as joint replacement procedures in cases where cartilage damage has also resulted in severe joint damage.
Thanks to advancements in the field, surgeons can perform these procedures using a minimally invasive approach at an outpatient facility. The recovery process varies from patient to patient, but instruction will be given on caring for the surgical site and resuming daily activities.
The caring team at USA Spine Care can help
Articular cartilage can seriously disrupt your quality of life, but there are effective treatments that can get you back to the people and activities you love. To learn more about how the highly skilled treatment professionals at USA Spine Care can help you overcome knee dysfunction.
Contact us today to learn more. Call toll free 1-866-249-1627.