Cartilage damage


Cartilage damage is a relatively common type of injury. It often involves the knees, although joints such as the hips, ankles and elbows can also be affected.

Cartilage is a tough, flexible tissuefound throughout the body. It covers the surface of joints, acting as a shock absorber and allowing bones to slide over one another.

It can become damaged as a result of a sudden injury, such asa Sports injuries ,or gradual wear and tear ( osteoarthritis ).

Minor cartilage injuries may get better ontheir own within a few weeks, but more severecartilage damage may eventually require surgery.

This page covers:


When to get medical advice


Symptoms of cartilage damage

Symptoms of cartilage damage in a joint include:

  • joint pain this may continue even when resting and worsen when you put weight on the joint
  • swelling this may not develop for a few hours or days
  • stiffness
  • a clicking or grinding sensation
  • the joint locking, catching or giving way

It can sometimes be difficult to tell a cartilage injury apart from other common joint injuries, such as sprains , as the symptoms are similar.

When to get medical advice

Ifyou've injured your joint, it's a good idea to try self-care measures first. Sprains and minor cartilage damage may get better on their own within a few days or weeks.

More severe cartilage damage probably won't improve on its own and if left untreated, can eventually wear down the joint.

Visit your GP or a minor injuries unit (MIU) if:

  • you can't move the joint properly
  • you can't control the pain with ordinary painkillers
  • you can't put any weight on the injured limb or it gives way when you try to use it
  • the injured area looks crooked or has unusual lumps or bumps (other than swelling)
  • you have numbness, discolouration or coldness in any part of the injured area
  • your symptoms haven't started to improve within a few days of self-treatment

Your GP may need to refer you for tests such as an X-ray , magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or arthroscopy (atype of keyhole surgery used tolook inside joints) to find out if your cartilage is damaged.

Treatments for cartilage damage

Self-care measures are usually recommended as the first treatment for minor joint injuries. For the first few days:

  • protect the affected area from further injury by using a support, such as a knee brace
  • rest the affected joint
  • elevate the affected limb and apply an ice pack to the joint regularly
  • take ordinary painkillers, such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Get medical advice if your symptoms are severe or don't improve after a few days. You may needprofessional treatment such as physiotherapy ,or possibly surgery.

A number of surgical techniques can be used, including:

  • encouraging the growth of new cartilageby drilling small holes in the nearby bone
  • replacing thedamaged cartilage with healthy cartilage taken fromanother part of the joint
  • replacing the entire joint with an artificial one, such as a knee replacement or hip replacement this is usually only necessary in the most severe cases

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 30 Jun 2016