Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue that covers the end of your bones at a joint to provide a cushion for bones so that they can glide over each other. Cartilage is composed of collagen fibers, elastin fibers and proteoglycan. Cartilage helps reduce friction between bones covering the surface of joints. It also gives support and shape to other parts of your body, such as nose, ears and windpipe. Moreover, it helps hold the bones together on your ribcage.
Causes of Cartilage Injuries and Disorders
Cartilage injuries and disorders can be caused by a variety of factors including trauma, overuse of joints, muscle weakness, daily wear and tear, and lack of movement. Direct blows to the joints in contact sports such as football, rugby, karate training and wrestling can damage the cartilage. A joint’s overuse over a prolonged period puts enormous stress on the joint, damaging the cartilage in the joints. Prolonged periods of immobility or inactivity also increase the risk of damage to the cartilage. Several diseases such as osteoarthritis, spinal cord herniation, traumatic rupture or detachment of the cartilage in the knee, achondroplasia, and costochondritis can also affect cartilage.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Patients with damage to the cartilage in a joint may experience inflammation, stiffness and limited movement. In case of chondromalacia (softening of the articular cartilage of the kneecap), a sufferer will feel a dull pain around or under the kneecap that worsens when walking down hills or stairs. Articular cartilage damage most commonly occurs in the knee, but the wrist, elbow, shoulder, hip joint or ankle can also be affected. If left untreated, the cartilage can eventually become so damaged that it can break off into pieces, causing joint to become locked. This can lead to bleeding in the joint, also known as hemarthrosis.
A patient’s description of symptoms and a follow up x-ray help a physiotherapy expert to make a diagnosis. As cartilage doesn’t absorb x-rays, a dye will be injected into the synovial membrane that will make the cartilage to absorb the x-rays. The doctor may also order other diagnostic tests such as magnetic resonance imaging and arthroscopy to rule out other medical conditions such as a sprain or ligament damage.
Cartilage damage is difficult to heal because cartilage does not contain blood vessels. The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs helps reduce pain and inflammation. If tear is minor, performing low-impact exercises in the supervision of a physiotherapy expert will strengthen muscles and joints. Warming up the affected joint by swimming, riding a stationary bike, or using a cross-country ski machine regularly can help repair the cartilage to some extent. Electrical stimulation and acupuncture may also be used by a physical therapy expert to alleviate the symptoms and strengthen the muscles.
Patients who don’t respond to aforementioned conservative treatment will need surgery. A physician may perform arthroscopic surgery to smooth the lesion and remove loose edges to prevent friction. Mosaicplasty is another surgical procedure in which a piece of cartilage from undamaged area of the joint is moved to the damaged area.
Call Happy Physio on (08) 9272 7359 now for the best physiotherapy advice.
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