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Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage Injuries: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery

There are three types of cartilage: hyaline, elastic, and fibrocartilage. Hyaline cartilage, the most prevalent cartilage in your body, is a very smooth cartilage that can be found on: the ends of bones in your joints to prevent them from rubbing together; between rib cage bones; and even inside your nose. Damage to hyaline cartilage can happen over time with normal wear and tear, or through an impact injury. Elastic cartilage, as the name suggests, is cartilage that is more elastic. Movements and distortion of elastic cartilage will not usually damage it or cause you pain. Your outer ears and nose are made of elastic cartilage. Fibrocartilage is a strong form of cartilage found in the meniscus in the knee joint and the discs in your back. Damage to fibrocartilage can occur as a result of a knee injury that damages the meniscus, or aging that causes issues with the discs in your back.

What Causes Cartilage Injuries?

Cartilage injuries can occur for a number of reasons. Regular wear and tear of articular (hyaline, joint cartilage) occurs with repeated movements during any activity, including sports or during work. Cartilage damage may accrue over time in the natural process of aging, and can be exacerbated by being overweight and/or having a family history of issues that might promote cartilage injury, including diseases or faulty bone placement. Impacts during sports or accidents such as falls can cause damage to cartilage, including the elastic cartilage of your ears and nose, and the fibrocartilage meniscus in your knees.

Cartilage Injuries Risk Factors

Risk factors for cartilage injuries include a family history of genetic abnormalities or diseases that cause cartilage issues, being overweight, being of advanced age, and participating in sports or other activities that require repetitive motions.

Symptoms of  Cartilage Injuries

If you have a cartilage injury, you may experience pain at the site of the injury, such as in the joint; the area may swell as a result of the damage; you may hear or experience grinding or popping noises within the afflicted joint; you may experience stiffness in the joint; your joint may have reduced range of motion and lock.

How are Cartilage Injuries Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will likely ask for your medical history, your symptoms, may perform a physical examination to determine if you have signs of a suspected cartilage injury, and then use imaging to get a look at the damage up close. Diagnostic tests include MRIs and X-rays.

Treatment for Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage injuries may heal on their own or may require surgery.  If surgery is required, the surgery is often arthroscopic in nature. Depending on the damage, your surgeon may elect to shave your cartilage to improve function or to stitch it together to allow it to heal. Since cartilage does not receive direct blood flow, it takes more time to heal.

Cartilage Injuries Recovery Time

Recovery from cartilage injuries varies depending on the treatment and type of cartilage you have injured. If you receive surgery to repair the meniscus of the knee, for example, your injury may take up to five months to heal fully. A herniated disc healing nonsurgically may heal after several months or sooner, depending on age, health, and amount of physical activity.

How Can I Prevent Cartilage Injuries?

Prevention of cartilage injuries may not be possible in all cases, since they can occur as a result of the natural aging process, accidents, or genetic issues that cause cartilage problems. However, strengthening the muscles surrounding your joints and stretching can both promote joint stability that may help you avoid cartilage injuries.

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