Knee cartilage is one of the smoothest, thickest and most important types of cartilage in the human body. It covers the joint all over: the upper leg bone (femur), the lower leg bone (tibia) and the kneecap (patella). This smooth substance allows the joint to function properly by providing a slick surface for the bones to move back and forth over. When the cartilage is damaged, it causes bleeding, bruising and pain, and if not treated, can cause further cartilage damage--which may eventually cause osteoarthritis. This article will give you some information on some of the problems that can occur to knee cartilage and what to do about them.
The importance of maintaining healthy cartilage in your knees cannot be overstated. The knee is the largest joint in the human body, and in order for it to work properly the cartilage that surrounds the knee bones, also called the "meniscus," must remain smooth and healthy. The knee is a highly intricate puzzle. The upper leg bone and the lower leg bone meet mid-leg and are secured by a complex series of muscles, tendons and ligaments. The kneecap floats above this network and, when the knee bends, it slides over the cartilage of the leg bones and into the femoral groove, where it remains while the knee is bent. When the leg straightens, the kneecap slides back into place. All this is cushioned by silky smooth cartilage.
Knee cartilage can encounter many different problems. If a person is highly active or engaged in sports, trauma or overuse can cause the meniscus to tear. If there is heavy labor or long-term abuse, the cartilage will wear away. Obesity also causes the wearing away of cartilage in the knees. Any injury, such as a car accident, blow or other violent trauma, can cause damage to the meniscus. Osteoarthritis is a disease that slowly eats away the cartilage of the knees, and this is the main culprit for cartilage damage, especially in the elderly.
When the meniscus is damaged or torn, there are many symptoms that can range from mild to severe. No two people are the same, so there is no set rule. But generally, if there is pain in the knee, particularly on one or both sides, or at the bottom or top of the kneecap, which worsens when manipulated, there is a good chance the knee has sustained some trauma and is not happy. This does not necessarily mean torn cartilage, but if it is accompanied by swelling, stiffness, and more severe pain--even after icing and elevation--it is time to see a medical professional.
Once damaged, the cartilage will actually "fray," just like clothing. It becomes ragged at the edges, and will continue to catch on the moving joint and tear more. The damage then just grows. Bleeding and bruising occur within the joint as the cartilage becomes more and more damaged. In the case of osteoarthritis, the cartilage will continue to wear away until the bone beneath is exposed, and begins to grind painfully on the bones around it.
Most torn cartilage must be repaired surgically. In many cases, arthroscopic surgery can repair the damage sufficiently, and in some cases there will be no lingering aftereffects whatsoever. In the more advanced cases of meniscus damage, other treatments after surgery may be attempted, such as hyaluronic acid injections, and even the newer treatment of trying to regrow cartilage by growing it outside the body and then transplanting it onto the exposed bone. In the case of very minor injury, bracing and rest may be sufficient to heal the torn cartilage. But only a medical professional can give you the best treatment options.