Repairing Articular Cartilage

A Full Range of Options

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.

Early Intervention

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.

cartilage Cells

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.

Donor Plugs

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.