Cartilage Defects


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Disease Awareness Page for R3 Stem Cell – Cartilage Defects


What is it?

Cartilage is an integral part of the human body. It is a connective tissue that is found in different parts of the body, particularly between the joints. It is a hard tissue but it is much softer and flexible than the average human bone. Examples include knees, elbows, ankles, ears, and nose, etc. 

As the name implies, a cartilage defect is damaged cartilage. The cause of this damage can be numerous including, but not limited to, injury, osteonecrosis, and osteochondritis. It is also important to note that oftentimes cartilage defects are confused with Arthritis. However, the two conditions are very different and thus have different treatments. 

How common is it?

Cartilage defects are more commonly observed in the knees and are often the result of serious injuries or due to ligament tears such as ACL. It is reported that in the United States of America alone, 100,000 to 200,000 ACL cases are reported each year, primarily because of sports injuries. Furthermore, studies have also shown that females are at a two to ten times higher risk of contracting cartilage related defects as compared to men. 

Who is at risk?

Though cartilage wears and tears over time and defects are found later on in a person’s life, cartilage damages are not limited to a particular age group. The condition can develop in people as young as 20 years to 30 years. 

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes in pregnancy can cause swelling in muscles and joints and can thus lead to cartilage defects. 
  • Age: Age is one of the most important underlying factors of cartilage defects. Though this condition is not limited to a particular age group, it is most commonly found in people above 50 years. As time passes, the water content of the cartilage increases as compared to the protein content. Therefore, the constant use of the joints damages the cartilage over time.   
  • Inherited Genetics: Though it is rare, genetics can also play a role particularly if the patient has a family history of conditions like osteoarthritis. If multiple people in the family have had such condition, the patient is likely to be prone to developing it as well. 
  • Obesity: Being obese causes a lot of strain on the bone and joints. It consequently damages the cartilage because of excessive pressure. Repetitive injury to the cartilage due to being overweight cause extreme fracture and damage.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can also lead to cartilage defects. 
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: This is another condition that increases the chances of the patient to develop cartilage defects. Again, the already weak joints compress the cartilage and damage it. 
  • Nutrition Deposits: Patients prone to having crystal deposits especially on the cartilage can cause it to damage.   
  • Birth Abnormalities: Some people are born with joints that are not normal. Thus, they are more vulnerable to damage. With time, the cartilage degenerates and cartilage defects become common.  
  • Mental Health Issues: Stress can cause strain on the body and that strain can affect the bones and joints. If not addressed, it may result in cartilage defects. 

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of cartilage defects may include the following: 

  • Severe pain in the joints. 
  • Inflammation with the area warmer, sore and tender than other parts of the body.
  • Extreme stiffness making it difficult for the person to perform day to day tasks.
  • A feeling that your bone and joints are rubbing against each other every time you move. 
  • Being unable to use that particular area easily and freely. 
  • Joint soreness.

It is important to remember that the symptoms for cartilage defects may not become evident very quickly and are likely to worsen with time. Many patients fail to pay much attention to it when it first starts. Thus it is important to bear in mind that the sooner a doctor is consulted, the better it is for the patient. 

How is it diagnosed?

The doctor is likely to perform a complete physical exam and go through the patient’s medical history. However, it is important to note that there are no blood tests that can be done to diagnose cartilage related defects. 

However, there are a few ways to diagnose this condition. Bear in mind that the best diagnosis can be obtained via your doctor because it may vary from condition to condition.

  • Ultrasound: This helps present a clear picture of the bone and the muscles surrounding it.
  • X-rays: X-rays help determine if there are any fractures or ligament injuries that might be compressing the cartilage. It allows doctors to make a decision about whether surgery is needed or not.
  • MRI Scans: MRIs can help doctors get a clear picture of the soft tissue near the area of concern. It helps them pinpoint the main cause of the condition.

What are the treatment options available?

If not treated timely, Cartilage defects can worsen causing you a lot of distress and pain. 

For this reason, it is highly important that a doctor is consulted as soon as the symptoms start becoming evident. The earlier this condition is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat it. 

There are a number of nonsurgical approaches that can be used to treat this problem. If the symptoms are present in the knee or elbow, then wearing a brace during the day and especially at night helps keep the area of concern straight. It can help protect the affected area from further damage by reducing the pressure. Doctors can also prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It is also suggested that affected limb should be kept elevated and ice packs should be used regularly to reduce swelling and pain. 

If, however, the condition has worsened, the doctor might recommend surgery. Other treatments include arthroscopy that is a technique in which doctors put a tube into the joint space to check for defects and abnormalities. The detected irregularities are then repaired using the arthroscope. Another technique is known as arthrocentesis in which a needle is inserted in the area of concern to remove some joint fluid. It helps relieve immediate pressure, swelling, and pain. For a cartilage defect in knee, Microfracture can also be performed. In this treatment, the solid outer layer of the bone is drilled only to expose the inner layers of the bone where marrow cells are. Marrow cells will then reach the affected area and fill in for the gap of cartilage.

According to the severity and specificity of your condition, the doctor can treat you with a Cartilage transfer, taking cartilage from comparatively healthy parts of the joint to the damaged areas, or cartilage implantation, growing cartilage cells in a laboratory and then implanting them in the defected joint. 

Whatever treatment you receive will be according to the severity of your condition but you must see a doctor for consultation as soon as you start experiencing the symptoms or get this diagnosed. 

R3 Stem Cell has achieved Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval for the investigation of regenerative therapies for orthopedic conditions, such as Cartilage Defects. The specifics of the study can be seen here on

Learn More about ongoing clinical studies sponsored by R3 Stem Cell HERE.