Articular cartilage is a specialized tissue that covers the ends of the bones in the knee. The thin layer of articular cartilage contributes to the weight-bearing surface in the knee and reduces friction within the joint. Healthy articular cartilage allows for smooth, easy movements of the knee. Damage and tears to the articular cartilage can result from direct trauma, long-term wear and tear, excessive weight overload or genetic predispositions. Damage to the articular cartilage causes swelling, pain and loss of motion and/or function. Excessive degeneration or damage to the cartilage eventually leads to osteoarthritis within the knee.
The articular cartilage does not have a direct blood supply which makes it difficult for self-repair. Physical therapy, activity modification, oral anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), ice and occasionally steroid injections are recommended to treat the symptoms. When nonoperative treatments fail to alleviate symptoms, surgical repair can be performed to fill-in lesions or defects in articular cartilage in select patients without arthritis. Several arthroscopic and open surgical techniques are utilized to repair articular cartilage and prevent arthritic damage. The procedure is dependent on the patient’s age, BMI, size and location of cartilage lesion, severity of injury and symptom, and health of the remaining cartilage. Recovery is dependent on the specific procedure, but the ultimate goal of the operation is to return the patient back to previous levels of activity.