Dec 09, 2020

Cartilage Damage: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

For fast and effective diagnosis and treatment of knee cartilage damage in London, contact the Capital Orthopaedics team here.

Your knee is the largest joint in your body, and it takes a massive force every step you take. 346% of your body weight goes through your knee when you’re walking downstairs. Running can put 11 times your body weight through your knee joint. And the heavier you are, the greater the force.

Our knees have to be pretty extraordinary structures to be able to cope with this enormous strain.

Cartilage DamageAs in all joints, the bones are coated in a layer of slippery cartilage which enables smooth, friction-free movement. In the middle of your knee are two rubbery, semi-circular pieces of cartilage called menisci, which provide additional shock absorption.

Small fluid-filled sacs called bursa also help with cushioning as you pound away at your knee joints.

Just as in any mechanical structure, repeated force or a sudden impact will cause the parts of your knee joint to get worn, torn or damaged.

The result is a pain in your knees. It may be a dull ache, or sharp, debilitating pain. It may be accompanied by swelling and a feeling of instability. It may change your life…

No matter what – the best thing you can do is get a diagnosis, and the sooner the better. Joints that take that much force on a daily basis rarely get better on their own. Many knee conditions can be resolved with physiotherapy if they are caught soon enough. Even if you need surgery, the sooner you can get treated, the less likely you are to have ongoing repercussions such as osteoarthritis.

For fast and effective diagnosis and treatment of knee cartilage damage in London, contact the Capital Orthopaedics team here.

What is Cartilage Damage?

The slippery articular cartilage that coats your bones helps with smooth movement.

If it’s torn or worn, it can leave the rough bone surfaces exposed – resulting in friction in the joint. Damaged cartilage can potentially lead to knee arthritis, with long-term effects on your knee function.

Damaged cartilage almost always has some sort of effect on your knees – whether it’s pain, swelling or stiffness.

What Can Cause Cartilage Damage in the Knee?

The main causes of cartilage damage are wear and tear (simply put, just getting older), repetitive actions (particularly twisting, jumping and deep knee bends) or a traumatic injury (such as forceful wrenching or a direct impact).

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Cartilage Damage in the Knee?

Cartilage damage can affect your knee in different ways.

Torn cartilage can get caught between the structures of your knee, resulting in pain, swelling and sometimes a locking or catching sensation.

You may also experience a feeling of instability and weakness.

Knee pain can cause you to alter your gait, which can, in turn, lead to misalignment and pain in your knees, ankles or hips.

How Is Cartilage Damage in the Knee Diagnosed?

Cartilage damage as a result of a forceful injury is often accompanied by other injuries – particularly if you have wrenched or even a dislocated your knee, so it’s not always obvious what is causing your knee pain.

Even if you have cartilage damage due to wear and tear, the symptoms can be similar to many other knee conditions – so it’s always best to get seen by a knee specialist.

The Capital Orthopaedics team is highly experienced at diagnosing knee conditions, starting with a history of your lifestyle or injury and a physical/biomechanical exam.

You will then be given x-ray or CT scans to assess damage to the bones in your joint, and an MRI to review cartilage damage and any other soft tissue injuries.

Treatment for a Damaged Cartilage

There are a number of different treatment pathways for damaged cartilage in your knee. Treatments are dependent on your age, activity level and the extent of the damage.


At Capital Orthopaedics, we will always opt for conservative treatment if at all possible.

Treating pain from damaged cartilage may be as simple as losing weight or doing exercises to strengthen your knee and improve mobility.

You may be able to simply shift to a lower-impact activity – say, from running to cycling or swimming.

The pain and stiffness of arthritis can often be managed with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), a range of injection therapies and exercises that focus on mobility and flexibility, such as yoga.


Knee cartilage repair

Surgery will usually be recommended if the damage to your cartilage is severe enough for it to be debilitating or having a negative effect on your lifestyle.

You’re also more likely to need surgical intervention if you are a professional athlete or dancer, or if you have had a traumatic injury to your knee that has affected other parts of the joint.

Cartilage damage is repaired using arthroscopic (or keyhole) surgery, which means minimal impact on healthy parts of your knee, less scarring and quicker recovery times. The cartilage may be removed, trimmed or smoothed down using special tools.

Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI)

In some cases, the injured area of cartilage can be replaced with a small piece of healthy cartilage and bone from another part of your knee joint.

Joint replacement

If the bone surfaces have degenerated badly due to arthritis, your surgeon can replace the damaged bone with prosthetic parts.

Bone marrow stimulation

Many orthopaedic surgeons, including the team at Capital Orthopaedics, also offer cartilage regeneration treatment. This ranges from microfracture surgery, where any exposed bone is very carefully drilled to release ‘stem cells’ from your knee to offering alternative cellular treatments, including fat and bone marrow-derived stem cells.

Last word from Simon Moyes

As an orthopaedic surgeon with decades of experience, I can only emphasise that you get any knee pain checked out by a medical specialist. You may be lucky – your condition could be managed with a few weeks of rest and some targeted physical therapy.

But where your knees are concerned, you have to remember how much force you are putting through them just going down the stairs or taking the dog for a walk. Any damage to your cartilage or any other part of your knee takes a battering every day.

Luckily, cartilage damage and arthritis can usually be treated very effectively with arthroscopic surgery. And there’s real hope that stem cell regeneration could turn the tide of cartilage damage forever.

For more information about your knee pain or to book an appointment at one of our central London locations, contact Capital Orthopaedics here.

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