The tough yet elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in the knee is called articular cartilage. Working in tandem with meniscal cartilage, articular cartilage acts as a shock absorber for the knee, allowing the joint to withstand the day-to-day pressures of walking, running, sitting and standing.
Like meniscal cartilage, articular cartilage can become damaged through the trauma of injury or as a result of the wear and tear that occurs over a lifetime.
Orthopaedic surgeons at the Rush CRC® have a full range of options at their disposal to help patients maintain – or regain – the active lifestyles they value.
The Rush CRC offers several options for regeneration and repair of damaged articular cartilage, starting with methods for repairing early, localized damage – called focal chondral defects. These methods include:
Arthroscopic debridement and microfracture – Aided by a small camera, surgeons can locate damaged tissue and trim away areas of torn cartilage. Surgeons can also use this method to carefully create small holes in the uncovered bone – called microfractures – which heal to form a type of cartilage covering that resembles normal articular cartilage.
Repairing Larger Defects
For patients with more extensive cartilage damage, the Rush CRC offers a range of methods for cartilage restoration using natural tissue – either the patient’s own tissue or donated tissue. Methods include:
Autologous cartilage cell implantation – This is one of the most advanced techniques for cartilage regeneration. This technique allows surgeons to harvest cells from a patient’s own cartilage. The cells are subsequently cultured, then reimplanted in the knee to repair and resurface areas of cartilage loss.
Osteochondral autograft – This technique, analogous to a hair-plug transfer, allows surgeons to remove a small section of the patient’s own bone and cartilage from an area of the knee that does not bear weight, and transfer the plug to a damaged portion of the knee.
When Pain is Long-Standing
Many patients suffer for years with arthritis that limits even the simplest activities. For these patients, surgeons at Rush offer a range of methods to relieve pain and restore function.
Injectable viscosupplementation – Surgeons inject the knee with a substance that offers relief from pain by lubricating the joint.
Osteotomy – A procedure where a surgeon cuts the thigh or shin bone to realign the leg, shifting the weight-bearing burden from the painful portion of the knee, where cartilage is missing or damaged, to a healthier stronger portion of the knee.
Unicompartmental knee replacement – This procedure can delay the need for a total knee replacement by resurfacing only the damaged compartment or side of the knee. The procedure requires only a short hospital stay, allowing patients to quickly return to their active lifestyles.
Total knee replacement – In the event that arthritis is more extensive, patients can have the knee’s damaged surfaces completely replaced with artificial components, allowing return to pain-free activities.