When you experience a broken bone or a cut on your skin, your body delivers healing nutrients to the damaged area via your bloodstream. However, since cartilage doesn’t have a direct blood supply, it lacks the ability to promote effective healing on its own.
Articular cartilage is the tough but smooth tissue that covers and cushions the ends of your bones where they are connected to form joints. Different types of cartilage exist in other parts of your body, such as your nose and ears.
Articular cartilage prevents the bones from rubbing against each other and causing friction and pain. This substance is soft enough to change its shape and absorb compression in your joints when you sit, stand, or perform other movements like moving your wrist.
Treating damaged cartilage requires an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan since it can improve on its own. In Chicago, Illinois, interventional pain management physician Shoeb Mohiuddin, MD, and the team at Regenerative Pain & Spine have the expertise necessary to diagnose and improve cartilage in areas such as your knee, shoulder, or hip with a range of therapies.
How cartilage gets damaged
As cartilage protects bones, it can become damaged by the normal wear and tear it experiences as it bears heavy loads over decades. This type of damage, called degenerative arthritis or osteoarthritis, develops over several decades of use. While the damage may start in a localized area, it can progress to involve larger areas in which the cartilage wears away.
Articular damage can also occur from other circumstances, including:
- A sports injury or fall that causes forceful impact to the joint
- Repetitive smaller impacts to the same joint
- Twisting the joint while it bears weight, such as twisting your knee while your foot is planted in place
- Poor joint alignment as a result of a previous injury or congenital abnormality
Articular cartilage damage often occurs in the knee, but it can also affect your ankle, hip, or shoulder.
How damaged cartilage affects you
While damaged cartilage isn’t evident from observation, the condition causes various symptoms that are likely to indicate a problem. Pain and/or swelling in the affected joint are common.
Stiffness, a reduced range of motion, and the inability to fully extend or bend the affected joint are also signs of damaged cartilage. You may also experience a grating, popping, or crackling sound when moving the joint. Some cartilage damage can make it feel like the affected joint is unstable or may give way.
Treatment for damaged cartilage
The most effective treatment for damaged cartilage depends on the type and severity of your condition. Other characteristics, including your age, overall condition, physical activity level, and post-treatment goals, are considered in your treatment recommendations.
Nonsurgical treatment can relieve symptoms and slow or prevent cartilage degeneration. While these treatments can improve symptoms, reduce pain, and increase mobility, they can’t repair articular cartilage that is worn or defective. They may be effective in improving the change in quality of life that can result from arthritis.
Nonsurgical treatment for cartilage damage can include:
- Nonsurgical anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
- RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to reduce swelling
- Activity modification to avoid activities that irritate the affected joint
- Wearing a brace
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation
- Viscosupplementation, an injection of hyaluronic acid to lubricate the affected joint
- Physical therapy to improve stability and range of motion
Regenerative medicine involves boosting the regeneration of damaged cartilage by stimulating your body’s natural repair mechanisms.
- Platelet-rich Plasma (PRP): Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy involves treating damaged cartilage with platelets extracted from a sample of your own blood. Platelets carry a high concentration of growth factors that promote healing.
- Stem cell therapy: Stem cells have the ability to transform into the type of cells that your body needs to heal. These cells, which are usually harvested from your own blood, have the potential to trigger the damaged cartilage to repair itself when injected into the damaged area.
- Amniotic tissue: Amniotic tissue, which includes umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid, and placental tissue, contains hyaluronic acid, antibodies, and a high density of growth factors similar to that which exists in PRP. Injecting amniotic tissue at the site of damaged cartilage can stimulate the healing of damaged cartilage.
Several surgical treatments can be used to relieve symptoms and repair damaged articular cartilage. These therapies, which are typically performed arthroscopically, can be effective in treating cartilage damage in a specific targeted area, depending on your damage and overall condition.
Find out more about ways to repair or restore cartilage damaged by wear and tear or injury. To schedule a consultation, call one of our offices in Chicago’s West Ridge area.