Repairing Knee Cartilage to Restore Mobility
Articular cartilage is designed to help the knee move smoothly while bearing the body’s weight. Osteoarthritis, a common condition in aging knees, involves a thinning of the cartilage. This can lead to bone damage as the cartilage wears away. Non-surgical treatments may allow the patient to postpone surgery but eventually, the cartilage may need to be repaired. Surgical techniques include chondectromy (shaving) and debridement (removal of dead or damaged tissue). Other procedures, such as grafting, are designed to encourage the growth of new cartilage in the knee.
Signs and symptoms of torn cartilage include
- pain in the kneecap area, and/or swelling around the joint
- a popping or locking sensation in the knee
- limited range of motion that inhibits walking or running
Diagnosing a Torn Meniscus
After a traumatic injury or in an aging knee, spontaneous healing of the cartilage becomes more difficult. Blood supply, which is critical for the healing process, is limited even in a healthy meniscus (cartilage). By age 40, knee cartilage can receive only about 80% of its normal blood supply.
It is estimated that six out of ten people over the age of 65 have torn knee cartilage. The impairment can range from very mild to severe. A combination of increased body weight and age-related thinning of cartilage make the knee more vulnerable to deterioration and injury in older patients. In extreme cases, torn cartilage can interfere with daily activities.
For patients who suffer a traumatic knee injury, there is no mistaking the event. The pain is immediate and swelling occurs within hours. Torn cartilage also makes itself known by stiffness and lack of mobility in the joint.
X-rays can be used to detect changes in the bones, but an MRI is the best way to diagnose torn cartilage. In addition, the orthopedic surgeon uses specific physical tests to determine the nature and extent of the injury.
Surgery for Torn Cartilage
Treatment varies depending on the nature and severity of the injury. Surgery to repair torn cartilage can be performed arthroscopically, using a camera and small surgical tools. Another approach is called microfracture. A surgeon can graft cartilage from other areas of the body, which will then start to grow in the knee area. While this cartilage is not as durable as the original, it can significantly reduce pain and improve function in certain patients.
If arthroscopic surgery is not effective, a patient could be a candidate for total knee replacement. Joint replacement of the knee has been very successful since its introduction in the 1960s, and is now one of the most common surgical interventions in the United States.