Articular Cartilage

Articular Cartilage



Articular cartilage is an extremely important component of joints.  It is the smooth covering of the end of the bones that allows for frictionless gliding of one bone against another.  Most people are probably familiar with the articular cartilage on the end of a chicken drumstick.

  Wearing away of this cartilage or damage by injury causes the joint surface to become rough and irregular leading to friction.  This roughening of the articular cartilage is referred to as chondromalacia, which can be painful and limit one's activities. Furthermore, chondromalacia often leads to further wear and tear and inflammation and can eventually result in the most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, which is also referred to as degenerative joint disease.
  Doctors have long known that articular cartilage in adults has extremely poor ability to heal after injury.  A lot of research is being done to find a way to stimulate the repair of articular cartilage with medications, injections, open surgery, or arthroscopic procedures.  Although we do not have a perfect solution to this problem vexing many people, there are several techniques currently available to help decrease symptoms from this condition.  Unfortunately, each technique has limitations and is indicated for the treatment chondromalacia with specific criteria.  Only a surgeon experienced and skilled in various different techniques to address injury to the articular cartilage can give you an accurate assessment of options.
  If the entire  joint’s articular cartilage is worn, the only procedure expected to give lasting pain relief with good joint function is a total joint replacement.  However, these artificial joints themselves wear out with time and use.  Consequently, a young adult or middle-aged person should try to postpone this surgery for as long as possible due to the fact that they tend to be more active than older individuals and consequently the artificial joint wears out more quickly.  Furthermore, results of revision artificial joint surgeries are generally not as good as those of the first-time implantation.
  Arthroscopic picture of chondromalacia of the patella (knee cap) with roughening of the surface:

Patella Articular Cartilage

   Same patella after arthroscopic chondroplasty (smoothening of the cartilage):

Patella Arthroscopic Chondroplasty