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Articular Cartilage Injury: Causes, Symptoms, Signs, Types

What is Articular Cartilage?

The articular cartilage1 is quite smooth and hard. It is made up of collagen2 that is present on the articulating surface of the bone. The articulating surfaces are surfaces that come into contact with other bones. Its function is to ensure smooth interaction between two bones in a joint. Hence, any sort of damage or injury to the articular cartilage results in disruption in the flexibility of joint movement. The articular cartilage does not have a direct blood supply which means that it is extravascular, which is why there is slow healing after an injury.

Articular Cartilage Injury

What is a Cartilage?

A cartilage is a connective tissue of a bone at a joint. Cartilages are discovered in many sections in our human body especially in the joints. These are connective tissues of the bones at joints with the marvelous natural characteristics. Cartilages are placed between bones at joints as a cushion or a shock absorber. Cartilages are made out of hard rubbery or elastic materials, which are very flexible.

If a person frequently feels a pain, stiffness or a swelling in one or many of the joints, they might be suffering from articular cartilage injury.

What are the Functions of Cartilage?

Cartilages are active and function in many different ways inside the body:

  • A cartilage acts as a friction reducer and a shock absorber between bones at joints. Since cartilages are placed between the bones at joints covering the surfaces of bones it helps to protect bones from friction and thereby reduce damage. Furthermore cartilages help the joints to bear the weight of the body when our body performs various actions like running, bending, walking or any other movements.
  • A cartilage acts as a connector between bones. Most of the bones in our body are bound together with cartilages, even in the rib cage, rib bones are held together by cartilages.
  • Cartilages acts as a construction mold. Some parts of the human body are made out of cartilages partially or completely. External parts of the ear are completely made out of cartilages, and the nose is partially made out of cartilages.
  • Cartilages help in formation of the bones. The edges of long bones of infants are made out of cartilages and ultimately they turn into bones as they grow up.

What Happens When Articular Cartilage Get Injured?

Severe pain, swelling, clicking sounds while moving, infectious, bones-locking etc. are the most common initial signs among patients with articular cartilage injury.

What Are The Types of Articular Cartilage Injuries?

There are many or several types of articular cartilage injuries3. Unbearable shocks/trauma (due to fall), repetitive strain injuries, strange distribution of loading weight, fractures and aggressive conditions associated with joints; and all these types of injuries would become more serious if a patient is suffering from obesity.

In the human body there is a continuous process happening to maintain articular cartilage layer, but in case if damage occurs due to any of the above reasons maintenance procedure could break off. If the maintenance procedure slows down or stops articular cartilage layer could become thinner gradually.

What Are Loose Bodies4 in Articular Cartilage Injury?

Loose bodies between the surfaces of knee bones, is another serious problem to patients. Loose bodies means small wreckage of cartilage or bones, damage and get stuck inside the joints cavities, situation become worst if those particles get jammed between the surfaces of bones. This issue can cause unbearable pain, swelling during bending or straitening the knee joint.

Will My Articular Cartilage Injury Heal? Will it Get Worse?

Protection is better than cure, because in this injury cure is a hesitation. Why this is so is because the articular cartilages do not get normal blood circulation, and it gets nourished only by joint fluids. Articular cartilage injury at the beginning stage is called as “focal chondral defect”5. If proper treatments are not given at this beginner stage the Articular cartilage injury would become worse very soon. If the Articular cartilage injury is ignored it becomes long term or chronic and could lead to the disease of osteoarthritis.

Causes of Articular Cartilage Injury

There are many causes for articular cartilage injury, including:

  • Knock down on your knees. If a person falls down or meets with an accident which directly hit the knees or knee joint, cartilages might get damaged. Sportsmen and motorbike riders have a greater possibility of encountering articular cartilage injury.
  • Deterioration of the knee cartilage due to heavy duty work or obesity. If a person is overweight or frequently involved in heavy duty work like weight lifting he has a great possibility of Articular cartilage injury or damage and this more often leads to osteoarthritis6.
  • Fewer movements than average. If a person spends his daytime sitting and involving some desk work rather than having to be walking much, there is a great possibility of getting the articular cartilage injury.
  • An articular cartilage injury can be a solitary condition or it may occur as a result of other knee injuries. The anterior cruciate ligament7 is responsible for preventing rotation of the knee. Because of this, ACL injuries are usually associated with injury to the medial and lateral surfaces of the femur and tibia. They become injured due to an ACL tear due to a twisting movement.
  • A forceful impact on the knee joint which is quite common in contact sports, for example a tackle, can cause articular cartilage damage. This damage is usually associated with injury to other structures within the joint e.g. ACL and PCL tears, damage to medial and lateral meniscus, and dislocation of the patella.
  • Articular cartilage damage results in inflammation and pain in the knee joint. It is also known to progress the beginning of osteoarthritis. Severe injury to the articular cartilage may result in fractures of the bone present below it. This condition is also termed as osteochondritis dissecans or osteochondral fracture.

Signs and Symptoms of Articular Cartilage Injury

There can be many signs and symptoms for an articular cartilage injury, but the first and the foremost symptom is moderate to severe knee joint pain, events of giving away of the knee joint, jamming or locking of the knee joint.

  • Sporadic pain in the knee joint.
  • Swelling of the knee joint.
  • Locking or catching of the knee may also occur due to presence of loose bodies in the joint.
  • Any sort of knee movement causes audible clicking.

If the patient has any of the above signs and symptoms, the first right thing to do is to give complete rest to the injured knee. The articular cartilage can repair itself in younger patients if proper rest is given. Nevertheless, the symptoms of the articular cartilage injury worsen as the damage increases. Eventually, in the long run there is a chance of developing the condition of osteoarthritis of the knee joint.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 6, 2020

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