Joint injuries are a common problem for anyone active in sports or athletics. Cartilage tears are one of the more difficult to diagnose medical problems. The symptoms are easy to confuse with other injuries, and the tests for these tears are expensive. Symptoms of torn cartilage can include swelling, pain and loss of mobility of the afflicted area.
Cartilage is the paste that essentially holds your ligaments and bones together. Cartilage is not as hard as bone, and can be used to buffer joints as well as hold them together. It is a type of connective tissue of which there are three different types. Hyeline cartilage is the most abundant form, and is a type of lining for the bones located in your joints. Elastic cartilage is the most flexible cartilage, and can be found in your ears and throat. Fibro cartilage is the least flexible form and can bear the most weight.
One of the first warning signs you may have torn cartilage is pain. If you experience pain around the lateral area of your knee you may have experienced a lateral meniscus tear. Any cartilage tear in any of your joints will be followed by immediate discomfort. In the case of a severe meniscus tear you may hear a “pop” as the cartilage tears.
If you have torn cartilage, you will experience swelling of affected joint. This swelling may occur immediately, or may take 24 to 48 hours to occur depending on the severity of the tear. The location of the swelling, whether it is on the side or on the front of the join is an indicator of a lateral tear. If swelling persists for several days you should consult your doctor.
With any cartilage tear, especially a meniscal tear, you will see an almost immediate loss of mobility. You will see decreased flexibility until the injury heals, as well as an inability to support your weight on that joint. Your range of motion will also decrease as the swelling grows, you will not be able to straighten out the joint completely.
One of the biggest problems with a cartilage tear is that it will not show up on an X-ray. Often it will require an MRI to discover the tear. This can be a problem as MRIs are expensive procedures that can be extremely uncomfortable. If you believe you have a cartilage tear, and your X-ray is coming back negative, consult your doctor to see if you should get an MRI.