Knee Cartilage Injury Overview
Cartilage is a type of tissue that is found throughout the joints of the body. Articular cartilage is a specific type that caps the ends of the bones allowing them to move smoothly and painlessly across one another. This tissue is extremely important for the preservation and normal function of the joints to allow movement. Just underneath the cartilage there is a layer of bone referred to as the subchondral bone. There are other types of cartilage, such as that which makes up the meniscus cartilage of the knee or the discs in the spine, which has different properties than that of articular cartilage. While the articular cartilage of joints is strong, it is commonly injured. Once damaged, the tissue has a very limited ability to heal because it has a poor blood supply.
Cartilage can become damaged through trauma, sports injuries, overuse and repetitive weight bearing, and age related degeneration. Focal damage (injury to a small, specific region) to cartilage can range from small tears with fraying to complete detachment of a piece of cartilage leaving the underlying bone exposed. For instance, the term chondromalacia refers to softening or fraying of the cartilage with minor damage. At the other end of the spectrum, a full thickness cartilage injury refers to a detachment of a segment of cartilage which may or may not contain the underlying bone (when it does it is called an osteochondral defect (OCD)). Due to the limited healing potential of cartilage, these chondral injuries may worsen if left untreated. When the deterioration and damage involves a large part of the joint this is referred to as osteoarthritis (or global cartilage degeneration). Knee specialist, Dr. Robert Boykin is an expert at treating knee cartilage injuries for patients in Asheville, Arden, Fletcher and surrounding communities.
What are Symptoms of a Knee Cartilage Injury?
The most common symptoms of a cartilage injury include:
- A dull ache in the joint or sharp pain with activity
- Joint swelling
- Catching or locking of the joint with motion
How to Diagnose Knee Cartilage Injuries
Because there can be a long list of reasons why a patient may complain of pain in the knee, the symptoms of a cartilage injury may overlap with other injuries in the joint. Dr. Boykin will thoroughly examine the knee, compare it to the other knee, and conduct a series of tests to exclude the possibility that the pain is being caused by a different issue. An X-ray will be performed at the initial visit to assess for other injuries, OCD lesions, and osteoarthritis. If it is suspected that the injury is to the cartilage in the knee joint, Dr. Boykin will perform a MRI so that he can view in detail the chondral surfaces of the joint and the underlying bone. Once a cartilage injury has been diagnosed, Dr. Boykin will explain exactly what the injury consists of, the size, location, and treatment options.
Treatment Options for Knee Cartilage Injuries
Depending upon Dr. Boykin’s exam, imaging, and the grade of the injury he may first recommend a non-surgical treatment. Minor cartilage injuries often respond well to:
- Physical therapy
- Icing of the knee
- Elevation of the injured knee
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Rest from activities that cause the knee to flare up
If non-surgical methods of treatment prove not to be beneficial or if the initial injury is found to be severe, Dr. Boykin may recommend a surgical treatment.
Surgical Treatment for Knee Cartilage Injuries
The surgeries that will be performed for chondral damage depend upon the grade of the injury as well as the method Dr. Boykin believes will provide the patient the best outcome. There are multiple different types of surgeries that Dr. Boykin will utilize depending on the type of damage that is encountered, the patient’s age and activity preferences, and previous surgeries. Many of these procedures are performed with minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques, while others may require a small open incision to complete the surgery.
- Microfracture (marrow stimulation)
- Debridement and chondroplasty
- Osteochondral Autograft Transfer
- Osteochondral Allograft Transplantation
Dr. Robert Boykin is an orthopedic surgeon treating patients in Asheville, Arden, Fletcher and surrounding North Carolina communities. If you have any further questions or are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Boykin to discuss a cartilage injury or any other knee problem, please contact his office.