What is articular cartilage?
Articular cartilage, also known as hyaline cartilage, is a very smooth yet hard material
made up of the protein collagen. The cartilage is located on a bone’s articulating surfaces
(surfaces of a bone that come in contact with other bones). It allows for the smooth
interaction between two bones in joints such as the knee.
How does articular cartilage get injured?
Damage to the articular cartilage may occur as an isolated incident or may develop due to another knee injury.
For example, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injuries are commonly associated with damage
to the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) surfaces of the femur (thigh bone) or tibia (shin bone).
Because the ACL’s function is to provide stability to the knee during rotation, a torn or injured ACL is unable to prevent the knee from damaging itself due to over-rotation.
If an ACL goes untreated, twisting movements can cause the articulating surfaces of the femur and tibia
to collide, damaging the cartilage on each surface.
Articular cartilage may also be damaged due to forceful impact to a joint, such as a football tackle. The excessive force may cause the joint to collapse, forcing bones to collide and resulting in damage to the cartilage surfaces.
Articular Cartilage Regeneration and Repair
Regeneration of articular cartilage is an ongoing area of study in the field of orthopaedics.
While there are currently no methods of reliably regenerating cartilage, there do exist methods of treatment.
The most common treatments seek to alleviate the symptoms of cartilage damage by repairing the surrounding area and preventing further damage to the cartilage surfaces.
Some new medical procedures aim to “fill in the holes” of the damage caused, typically using the body’s scarring response to fill the damaged holes with scar tissue. The repaired area resembles hyaline cartilage, but is not true cartilage. As a result, these treatments have the potential to delay or prevent further damage to the actual cartilage but results vary.
While damage to the articular cartilage is not life threatening, it can significantly impact long-term quality of life. Pain, swelling of the joints, restriction on activties, and reduced mobility are common with articular cartilage damage. By repairing the
tissue after damaging the articular cartilage, these negative effects can be greatly reduced.