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What Are Cartilage Injuries?
Cartilage damage ranks highly as a relatively common form of injury. Cartilage damage occurs most often in the knees, although it can also affect other joints such as hips, ankles, and elbows.
You can find Cartilage throughout the body as a tough, flexible tissue covering the surface of joints. Cartilage acts as a shock absorber and allows bones to glide smoothly over each other.
Cartilage can suffer damage due to sudden injuries, such as a sports injury, or through more gradual wear and tear over the course of one’s life (osteoarthritis).
In most cases, minor cartilage injuries can heal on their own after a few weeks, but severe cartilage damage may eventually require surgery.
Types of Cartilage Injuries
- Articular Cartilage Injuries: Articular cartilage is the smooth, white tissue that covers the ends of bones within joints. Injuries to articular cartilage can occur due to trauma, such as a direct blow to the joint or repetitive stress over time. Common injuries include cartilage tears, cracks, or fissures, as well as loose cartilage fragments within the joint.
- Meniscus Tears: The menisci are C-shaped pieces of cartilage located in the knee joint. They act as shock absorbers and provide stability to the joint. Meniscus tears often result from twisting or pivoting movements, particularly in sports or activities that involve sudden changes in direction. These tears can cause pain, swelling, and limited knee movement.
- Osteochondral Injuries: Osteochondral injuries involve both the articular cartilage and the underlying bone. They can occur due to acute trauma or as a result of repetitive stress or overuse. Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is a specific type of osteochondral injury in which a fragment of cartilage and bone detaches from the joint surface.
- Costal Cartilage Injuries: The costal cartilage connects the ribs to the sternum (breastbone). Injuries to the costal cartilage can occur due to direct trauma, such as a forceful blow to the chest, or through overuse, as seen in sports like boxing or contact sports. These injuries can lead to pain, tenderness, and difficulty breathing deeply.
Indication Of Cartilage Injuries
The symptoms of cartilage injuries can vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Common signs and symptoms include:
- Joint Pain: Cartilage injuries often cause localized joint pain, which may be sharp, achy, or accompanied by a dull discomfort. The pain may worsen with movement or weight-bearing activities.
- Swelling: Inflammation and swelling may occur in and around the affected joint.
- Joint Stiffness: Cartilage injuries can lead to reduced joint mobility and stiffness. Range of motion may be limited, and joints may feel “locked” or difficult to move smoothly.
- Clicking or Catching Sensations: Some individuals may experience clicking, popping, or catching sensations within the joint during movement.
- Joint Instability: Injuries to certain types of cartilage, such as the meniscus, can result in a feeling of joint instability or a sense that the joint is giving way.
Diagnosis of cartilage injuries typically involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, which may include a physical examination, imaging tests (such as X-rays, MRI, or arthroscopy), and possibly other diagnostic procedures to assess the extent and nature of the injury.
Treatments For Cartilage Injuries
Treatment options for cartilage injuries depend on various factors, including the type and location of the injury, its severity, and the individual’s overall health. In most cases, minor cartilage injuries can heal on their own after a few weeks, but severe cartilage damage may eventually require surgery. Conservative treatment measures may include:
- Rest and Activity Modification: Limiting or avoiding activities that worsen symptoms and allow the affected area to heal.
- Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers or prescription medications may be used to manage pain and reduce inflammation.
- Physical Therapy: Specific exercises and rehabilitation programs prescribed by a physical therapist can help improve joint function, strength, and stability. They may also include modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation