What Are Cartilage Injuries?
Cartilage is tough but flexible tissue. It wraps the ends of bones and also makes up the ears, nose and larynx. Since joints are where two bones connect, cartilage is a main component of joints. Overuse, sports, trauma and chronic conditions can all cause the tearing or breakdown of cartilage.
Symptoms of a cartilage injury include:
- Clicking, grinding, locking or catching sensation at a joint
- Joint pain
There are a number of possible causes of cartilage injury. Damaged cartilage may show up in the knee, elbow, hip, spine, neck, ankle, shoulder or any other joint. Cartilage damage can be the result of:
- Acute injury, such as from sports, a fall or a car accident
- Chronic conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Overuse and wear-and-tear, such as in the case of osteoarthritis
Risk factors for cartilage damage include:
- Overweight or obesity
- Previous joint injury
A medical history and physical examination are the first steps in diagnosing a cartilage injury. The doctor will want to know about any activities that might be contributing to joint pain, any recent injuries sustained and any history of chronic illness. Next, the doctor will manipulate the painful joint to check for the presence and nature of symptoms.
Because cartilage is soft tissue, it will not show up on an X-ray, but X-rays may still be useful in ruling out other causes of pain, such as fractures. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can reveal damage to the cartilage itself.
Treatment depends upon the nature, location and severity of the cartilage injury. Many times conservative treatments can clear up symptoms. These include:
- Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen
- Immobilization of the painful joint
A surgeon can clear out damaged cartilage to stop the pain and help the joint recover. This is often done arthroscopically, with small incisions, small tools and a flexible camera called an arthroscope attached to a video monitor.
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