The knee joint is composed of the femur, tibia and patella bones and its primary action is to flex and extend the lower leg while walking and running. Because this important action controls daily life, protecting the integrity of the joint is of the utmost importance. One of the key protective elements of the knee is cartilage. It should be taken special care of throughout one’s lifetime.
Knee Cartilage Defined
Cartilage is a special type of elastic tissue that coats the ends of all bones of the body. In the knee, cartilage can be found on the ends of the femur (like a cap), back of the patella, and on top of the tibia. When healthy, knee cartilage allows the joint to move smoothly and serves as a stabilizer and shock absorber—bracing the load placed on the joint when the foot impacts the ground and keeping the knee from excess movement.
Illustration 1- The cartilage of a normal knee is highlighted in purple
Because the knee experiences a great deal of use over the course of a lifetime, cartilage is susceptible to damage.
How Knee Cartilage is Damaged
Cartilage can be damaged in two ways:
The first relates to overuse due to participation in athletics or physical activity and overloading the joint. When twisting, turning, and torqueing the knee, cartilage can be partially or completely torn. This type of injury can cause bone on bone rubbing, which can limit the injured athlete. This usually involves an acute injury on top of pre-existing damage.
The second relates to the development of osteoarthritis, a disease that causes inflammation, and leads to destruction of the cartilage. As the disease develops in aging individuals, a host of unpleasant symptoms, namely pain, swelling, and weakness, can decrease quality of life and ability to function.
Illustration 2- Cartilage that has been affected by osteoarthritis
Protecting Knee Cartilage
There are numerous ways to protect cartilage from injury and arthritis. Four great ones are:
- Proper warm-up, stretching and strengthening all the muscles of the leg.
- Using proper form when participating in athletics.
- Avoiding overtraining.
- Seeing an orthopedic sports medicine specialist when symptomatic or injured.
Preventing knee cartilage damage is an important part of maintaining one’s overall health. When taken care of, there’s no reason why cartilage can’t last a lifetime.
What to Do If You’re in Pain or Injured
Orthopedic and Sports Medicine specialists are the most qualified medical professionals to take care of cartilage injuries. Their education, skills, and experience allow them to accurately diagnose and effectively treat injuries so patients can return to a normal life.
If you’re in pain or have sustained an injury, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our 5 Fairfield County offices to arrange an appointment—we will get you in ASAP.