Most people will suffer from cartilage damage at some point in their lives. In most cases the knee joint is involved. There are a number of symptoms which point to cartilage damage, including pain in the joints, stiffness, swelling and a lessening of movement in the relevant joint. Cartilage is an extremely flexible yet tough tissue that is found in all areas of the body. It has two principle functions: as a shock absorber and as a mould.
All the joints within our body are covered with cartilage. The presence of the cartilage enables our bones to move over one another smoothly — it reduces friction and therefore the potential for damage. It helps support the weight of movement, whether that is walking, stretching, bending or running. Knee cartilage damage is particularly common and treatment can vary depending on the extent of the damage sustained.
Cartilage tissue is flexible and tough, and its purpose is ideally illustrated when it comes to our more unique features, such as the nose and ears. These two extremities consist almost wholly of cartilage.
What marks cartilage out from other types of tissue is its lack of blood supply. Blood cells play a very important part in the process of repair if our tissues become damaged. It therefore follows that knee cartilage damage and other common cartilage issues are unable to be repaired in the same way as damaged muscle or skin.
Cartilage is divided into three types. These comprise the following:
Hyaline Cartilage: Principally found between the joints and ribs and around the trachea (windpipe)
Elastic Cartilage: More flexible and supple and makes up much of the nose, outer ear and epiglottis
Fibrocartilage: The strongest type of cartilage is fibrocartilage. This can withstand a great deal of weight and is found between the bones of the pelvis and hips and, crucially, between the vertebrae. Knee cartilage damage involves the fibrocartilage.
One of the most often reported and possibly serious sorts of damage is that to the cartilage between a joint — commonly knee cartilage damage. This type of injury can lead to swelling, pain and varying degrees of mobility loss.
However, all types of cartilage can become damaged. A common injury is the one known as ‘cauliflower ear’, where the elastic cartilage becomes damaged, leading to an appearance of deformity. This type of injury is very common among rugby players. Many people suffer from damage to the fibrocartilage that separates the vertebrae. Known as a ‘slipped disc’, this can be excruciatingly painful.