Knee Injuries and Damaged Cartilage: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment : The knee is the largest joint in the human body and more than half of your body weight is exerted on your knee when you’re standing, walking or running. The heavier you are, the greater the weight and force exerted on your knee.
Just like other joints in the body, the bones that make up the joint in the knee are coated in a layer of slippery cartilage. The cartilage allows for smooth, friction-free movement between the bones.
There are two rubbery, semi-circular pieces of cartilage called menisci in the middle of your knee. They provide additional shock absorption.
If the cartilage is torn, worn, or damaged, it can expose the rough bone surfaces, resulting in friction between the bones in the joint. If the cartilage is damaged, it can potentially lead to knee arthritis and other long-term effects on your knee.
Repeated force, sudden impact, or accident to the knee will cause parts of your knee joint to get worn out, torn or damaged. When any of these occurs, you may feel a dull ache, or sharp, debilitating pain.
Knee injury or damage can be very serious and can affect your movements. You may be unable to stand or move and can affect your ability to perform daily tasks.
Symptoms of Cartilage Damage in the Knee
- Damaged cartilage usually results in pain and swelling
- You may feel a clicking or grinding sensation.
- You may also experience a feeling of instability and inability to stand upright
- Weakness in your knee
- Stiffness in your knee
- Misalignment in your knees, ankles or hips
Causes of cartilage damage
Wear and tear
Wear and tear of the cartilage due to aging are common cause of cartilage damage.
Repetitive movements such as twisting, jumping, walking running, jogging, and extreme knee bends can affect and damage the knee cartilage.
Accidents to the knee, direct impact and force to the knee can cause knee cartilage damage
Lack of movement
Lack of movement can also affect the knee cartilage as the joints need to move regularly to remain healthy. Lack of movement for long periods of time and inactivity increase the risk of cartilage damage.
The symptoms of cartilage damage, sprain, and ligament damage in the knee are quite similar. You may not be able to tell which is it if you don’t undergo diagnosis. You will need to see a knee specialist for diagnosis.
During diagnosis, your knee specialist will first conduct physical and biomechanical examination to know the area affected.
Your doctor may also order additional diagnostic tests to know the extent of damage. These diagnostic tests include CT scan or MRI
Your doctor may also order an Arthroscopy to help determine the extent of cartilage damage.
Treatment for Knee Cartilage Damage
Treatment options include non-surgical and surgical treatments.
Non-surgical treatments include:
Engaging in certain exercises to strengthen your knee and improve mobility can help improve your condition. It is also advised to lose excess weight if you’re overweight to reduce stress on your knee.
Avoid high-impact activities
Shifting from high-impact activities to lower-impact activities can help with your knee cartilage.
Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Taking over-the-counter NSAIDs can help reduce your pain
Injecting corticosteroids into the affected area can help numb the pain and reduce inflammation.
There are a variety of surgical options for knee cartilage damage. Patients who don’t experience improvements with non-surgical treatments may need to undergo surgery. If the damage to the cartilage is severe, surgery is usually recommended.
Surgical options include:
This involves smoothing the damaged cartilage and removing loose edges to prevent it from rubbing and irritating other parts of the body can help.
This surgery is done to trigger the production of new cartilage. The downside is that the new cartilage that is produced is less supple than the original cartilage. The new cartilage wears away more quickly than the original one.
This involves harvesting healthy, undamaged cartilage from one area and moved to the damaged site. Mosaicplasty is only used for small areas of cartilage damage. The area is generally limited to 10-20 millimeters in size. It is not suitable when there is large area damage.
Autologous chondrocyte implantation
This procedure involves removing a small piece of cartilage from your knee and taken to a laboratory. The piece of cartilage is then grown in the laboratory to produce more cartilage cells. The new cartilage cells are implanted into the knee in about 1-3 months. Thereafter, they start growing into healthy tissue.
How long does knee cartilage damage take to heal?
After 6-8 weeks, most patients are able to engage in some physical activity. Full recovery after surgical repair of cartilage can take anywhere from 3-6 months.
Can damaged knee cartilage repair itself?
Damaged cartilage does not heal on its own. You need to see a knee specialist to have it checked out and treated.
Can damaged cartilage be repaired without surgery?
There are some non-surgical treatments for damaged cartilage. Depending on the severity of damage, most damaged cartilage can be treated without surgery. Non-surgical treatments for damaged cartilage include physical exercises, anti-inflammatory medications, and corticosteroid injections.
Does an X-ray show cartilage damage?
An X-ray cannot show cartilage damage. An X-ray can only show the status of the joint, and whether there is osteoarthritis or a fracture. X-ray only visualizes bony structures and abnormalities. Cartilage does not show in an X-ray.
What is the best treatment for knee cartilage damage?
There are various treatment options for knee damage, both non-surgical and surgical options. The best treatment for you depends on certain factors such as your age, severity of damage, level of activity, and how long the damage has occurred. While minimal cartilage damage can be effectively treated with non-surgical options, more serious or severe cartilage damage will require surgical interventions.
How do you heal cartilage damage naturally?
Certain foods can help facilitate the natural healing of damaged cartilage. These foods include:
- Citrus fruits such as oranges
- Green tea
- Brown rice
- Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- Brussel Sprouts
- Low-fat dairy products
Can you walk with no cartilage in your knee?
No cartilage in your knee can lead to osteoarthritis. Without cartilage in your knee, your knee joint will become so damaged that you will be unable to walk.
Can cartilage repair itself?
Cartilage cannot repair itself. If your cartilage is damaged, you will need medical interventions to repair and heal it.
What supplements help rebuild cartilage?
The supplements that can help rebuild cartilage are Glucosamine sulfate and Chondroitin sulfate.
Is climbing stairs bad for knees?
When you climb the stairs, you exert pressure on your knees. Climbing stairs put the knee to additional stress, leading to increased pain. If you have a knee condition or damaged cartilage, avoid climbing the stairs.