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Cartilage allows bones to move over one another smoothly and acts as a shock absorber. Although robust and flexible, knee cartilage damage is a common injury, typically caused by trauma in sports or the development of osteoarthritis.

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Knee cartilage damage symptoms can be challenging to differentiate from other injuries such as a sprain and include:

  • Knee joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Clicking or grinding sensation
  • The joint locking, catching or giving way

Your GP will start with a physical examination as the symptoms of cartilage damage are similar to ligament damage and sprains. To confirm the diagnosis, they may request the following tests: -

  • MRI - Useful but an MRI cannot always detect cartilage damage
  • Arthroscopy - Used to establish the extent of the injury, an arthroscope is inserted into a joint to examine and repair it

Perhaps the most common cause of knee cartilage damage is from a sudden heavy impact. Sports people are associated with this type of injury in sports like rugby and American Football, but you may also suffer from this type of condition following something like a car accident.

Wear and tear - think of cartilage-like a seal on a tap. After a time, the seal fails through wear and tear! Your cartilage also experiences wear and tear over your lifetime and how long it lasts can be influenced by factors such as your lifestyle and weight. Loss of cartilage over time in joints is commonly diagnosed as osteoarthritis.

Lack of movement - like the tap mentioned above, regular use of our joints helps them stay in excellent condition and reduce the risk of knee cartilage damage.

Self-care treatment for minor joint injuries. For the first few days: -

  • Protect the knee by using a support, such as a knee brace
  • Rest the knee joint
  • Elevate the affected limb and apply an ice pack to the joint frequently
  • Take pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication

After a few days, if the symptoms don't improve, seek medical advice as you may need physiotherapy or surgery in the most severe cases.

Surgery can include: -

  • Encouraging the growth of new cartilage
  • Replacing the damaged cartilage with healthy cartilage
  • Replacing the entire knee joint

The following links may also prove useful: -

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