The FAQs of Knee Cartilage Surgery and Recovery

Christopher C. Dodson, M.D. June 17th, 2016

Over 12 million people a year visit their doctors due to knee pain that is affecting their quality of life.

Knee pain may be the result of an injury, such as a ruptured ligament or torn cartilage, or of chronic medical conditions including arthritis, gout, and infections. Many types of minor knee pain respond well to self-care measures. In some cases, however, your knee may require surgical repair. If you or someone you love is wondering about knee cartilage surgery to relieve your knee pain, Rothman Institute provides the following answers to patients’ frequently asked questions about the procedure.

What Is Knee Cartilage And How Does It Get Damaged?

The knee joint hinges together the femur (thigh bone) and the tibia (shin bone). Cartilage covers the ends of each of these bones to act as a cushion. Your knee has two kinds of cartilage: articular cartilage, which provides a smooth, lubricated surface within the joint, and meniscus cartilage, which provides a cushion to the articular cartilage during weight-bearing activities.

When problems arise in the articular cartilage, they are the result of either injury, defect, or arthritis. Of these, arthritis is the much more common factor, causing damage by wearing down the articular cartilage surfaces over time.

Damage to meniscus cartilage is usually the result of an injury. A torn meniscus can result from any activity that causes you to twist or rotate your knee forcefully. Even kneeling, deep squatting, or lifting something heavy can lead to a torn meniscus. In older adults, degenerative changes of the knee may contribute to a torn meniscus.

What Are The Symptoms Of Knee Cartilage Damage?

The most frequent symptom of articular cartilage damage is dull pain around or under the kneecap that worsens when walking down stairs or hills. A person may also feel pain when climbing stairs or when the knee bears weight as it straightens. Other symptoms may include loss of motion, pain, and swelling.

Similarly, the symptoms of damage to the meniscus include swelling or stiffness, pain (especially when twisting or rotating your knee), and difficulty in motion. You may be unable to straighten your knee fully, or feel as if your knee were locked in place. In addition, patients with a damaged meniscus may experience a popping sensation during movement.

The first step for anyone experiencing symptoms of damage to knee cartilage is to consult your physician right away. A Rothman Institute specialist will conduct a detailed review of your medical history, a thorough physical examination, and imaging tests such as X-rays and an MRI.

Are There Any Non-Surgical Treatments Available?

Treatment for damaged cartilage often begins conservatively. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Rest – Avoid activities that aggravate your knee pain, especially any activity that might cause you to twist your knee.

  • Ice – Ice can aid in reducing knee pain and swelling.

  • Medication – Over-the-counter pain relievers can also help ease knee pain.

  • Therapy – Physical therapy can help you strengthen the muscles around your knee and in your legs to help stabilize and support the knee joint.

Rothman is now offering Platelet Rich Plasma Injections for the treatment of mild early diffuse cartilage injuries and occasionally in conjunction with surgical treatment. Ask your Rothman doctor if one of these options is appropriate.

What Are The Types Of Knee Cartilage Surgery?

If your symptoms persist despite these interventions, your doctor may recommend knee cartilage surgery. Articular cartilage repair may be effective for an otherwise healthy knee, but not for knees affected by osteoarthritis, which causes natural cartilage deterioration from aging. It is also sometimes possible to repair a torn meniscus, especially in children and young adults; if the tear can't be repaired, the meniscus may be surgically trimmed.

Most knee procedures are performed arthroscopically. During arthroscopy, your surgeon makes three small, puncture incisions around your joint using an arthroscope, a small device with a camera that provides a clear view of the inside of the knee. With improvements to arthroscopes and higher resolution cameras, the procedure has become extremely effective for both the diagnosis and treatment of knee problems.

Rothman Institute physicians are some of the most experienced specialists for knee cartilage surgery, and they can offer comprehensive and caring treatment for you. Call Rothman Institute today to schedule an appointment at 800.321.9999.

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