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At Slocum Center for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, several of our orthopedic surgeons specialize in articular cartilage injuries. The Slocum Center has been treating knee conditions for more than four decades. That means your care will be provided by a team whose experience is virtually unmatched in Eugene, the surrounding areas of Oregon, and throughout the Northwest.

The gliding surfaces of the bones in the knee are covered with articular (hyaline) cartilage. This highly specialized cartilage is normally very durable, but it is susceptible to injury and wear. Once damaged, it has a poor capacity for healing. Wear or damage to the articular cartilage can lead to arthritis.

Cause

Damage to articular cartilage can occur with injury, joint space infection and wear changes over time as a result of age and obesity. Some individuals have genetic predisposition to damage. The cause is often multifactorial, meaning several factors combine to result in injury. Certain parts of the body, such as the knee, are susceptible to articular cartilage injury in adolescents as a result of overuse in such sports as little league baseball and gymnastics. Mild damage occurs as softening or fissures in the cartilage. Severe damage involves full thickness loss of cartilage and damage to the underlying bone.

Prevention

Unfortunately, little is known about the exact underlying causes of cartilage damage and wear. Significant research is ongoing worldwide to better understand cartilage health and healing.

Treatment

Current treatments remain imperfect, but are improving. Minor injuries to cartilage may be treated arthroscopically by removing loose and damaged tissue and smoothing the defect in a procedure called chondroplasty. This is often done for lesions found incidentally during a procedure to treat another problem such as a meniscus tear. Full thickness defects may be treated with a procedure called microfracture to stimulate repair tissue (called fibrocartilage) to fill the void when the surrounding cartilage and underlying bone is otherwise normal. Cartilage grafting and cartilage transplant techniques are evolving to treat more serious localized cartilage injuries but not generalized arthritis. Much research is ongoing to develop growth factors and artificial tissue scaffolds to heal cartilage defects, but these procedures are still experimental and not generally available currently.