Cartilage Damage Explained

cartilage damage explained

Cartilage Damage Explained

Cartilage damage can occur for a variety of reasons in different joints in the body. This article will explore how cartilage damage develops and how it can be treated.


What Causes Cartilage Damage?

Cartilage is connective tissue found in the major joints of the body—shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle. It protects the major bones of a joint from rubbing painfully against each other and cushions the joint during normal movement.

Cartilage can suffer damage for a variety of reasons. Common causes of cartilage damage include

  • Wear-and-tear from age: As we get older, the cartilage protecting our joints can begin to wear thin and become damaged. Age is one of the biggest risk factors for developing cartilage damage.
  • Overuse: Repetitive motions that stress the same joint over again, such as those in sports, can contribute to the loss of healthy cartilage in the joint.
  • Injury or accident: Direct blows or injuries to joints can damage the cartilage and cause arthritis to develop. Sports accidents commonly cause cartilage damage.
  • Obesity: Being overweight adds extra pressure to joints and can cause the cartilage to deteriorate faster.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: Without regular movement and exercises, joints often begin to suffer cartilage loss and deterioration.

One major condition that can cause severe cartilage damage is osteochondritis dissecans. This condition occurs when a portion of the bone that connects to the joint suffers a lack of blood flow and then dies. This piece of bone can break off from the joint, which then exposes the cartilage and causes it to break away, as well.

What Are The Symptoms of Cartilage Damage?

Common symptoms of cartilage damage include

  • Pain when moving the affected joint
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Stiffness
  • Joint instability
  • Feeling of catching or locking in the joint

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away to prevent your condition from worsening.

cartilage damage treatment

How Is Cartilage Damage Diagnosed?

To diagnose cartilage damage, an orthopaedic doctor will first physically examine the affected joint to identify the source of pain and to evaluate the range of motion. The doctor may also order an X-ray to more closely examine the bones that compose the joint for signs of cartilage loss between them. An MRI can also allow for a closer examination of soft tissue damage.

How Is Cartilage Damage Treated?

Cartilage damage can be treated in a variety of ways. Conservative treatments for cartilage damage include

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers
  • Physical therapy exercises that stretch and strengthen the affected joint
  • Avoiding high-impact activities that put extra pressure on the joints
  • Steroid injections to relieve inflammation in the joint

In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged cartilage. Common procedures include

  • Debridement: The damaged cartilage is smoothed and trimmed. This procedure is typically performed arthroscopically through small incisions into the joint.
  • Marrow stimulation: Small holes are drilled into the bone, which allows the exposed blood vessels to stimulate the production of new cartilage.
  • Mosaicplasty: Healthy cartilage is taken from one area to replace damaged cartilage in another.
  • Joint replacement: In the most severe cases, the entire joint is replaced with an artificial implant to restore normal functioning.

An orthopaedic specialist will determine the best course of treatment depending on each individual case.

Treating Cartilage Damage at Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants

At Midwest Orthopaedic Consultants, we work hard to help you find relief from joint pain. Cartilage damage can be frustrating and painful, but our team of orthopaedic specialists and surgeons are prepared to work with you to find the best treatment solution for your individual condition. We’re ready to help you get back to doing what you love.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of cartilage damage, book an appointment with us today!


Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.