Cartilage restoration may eliminate the need for artificial joint replacement and other more extensive surgeries.
If pain management or physical therapy techniques and anti-inflammatory and pain medications aren’t effective, cartilage restoration surgery may be recommended.
Cartilage around joints is durable, yet still susceptible to damage from gradual wear and tear or injury.
Minimally Invasive Cartilage Restoration
Most cartilage restoration surgeries are performed with arthroscopic, or minimally invasive, techniques. Such procedures involve smaller incisions and the use of specialized tools, instruments, and cameras. Since there is often less trauma to the affected joint, many patients who have less-invasive cartilage restoration procedures report faster healing. Many surgeries of this nature can be done on an outpatient basis.
Surgery to Encourage New Growth
The goal with most forms of cartilage restoration surgery is to encourage new tissue growth. Hyaline cartilage, in particular, is a special type of cartilage tissue that keeps joint surfaces smooth and prevents wear and tear damage. In some cases, other issues with joint tissues are discovered during cartilage restoration surgery. This is because some damage may not be detectable on image tests.
Possible Cartilage Restoration Procedures
Many procedures that can restore cartilage are minimally invasive. However, some techniques require more direct access to the affected area. In some situations, there’s damage to other tissues that will also need to be corrected while cartilage is being restored.
A microfracture is one of the most common cartilage restoration procedures. The goal is to encourage new cartilage growth by creating a new blood supply. Strategically placed holes are placed in the joint surface to trigger the body’s natural healing responses. Drilling is a similar procedure that may also encourage more blood cells to go to the affected area and stimulate growth.
With abrasion arthroplasty, damaged cartilage is removed with high-speed burrs that reach the layer of bone just below the cartilage (subchondral bone). During an autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI), new cartilage cells are implanted into the affected area where tissues have been weakened or damaged.
If osteochondral autograft transplantation is performed, healthy cartilage tissue is taken from a non-weightbearing area and transferred to the area where restoration is needed. Cartilage tissue may also be taken from a cadaver (osteochondral allograft transplantation). Research is being done on the possible use of mesenchymal stem cells to restore cartilage.
Why Consider Cartilage Restoration Surgery?
Unlike bones and soft tissues, cartilage does not heal itself well. Minor damage may correct itself over time, but extensive damage tends to remain problematic. Cartilage restoration surgery may be worth considering if:
- You regularly participate in sports or have an active lifestyle
- Related joint pain is becoming progressively worse or more disruptive
- Weakened cartilage tissue is placing added strain on nearby muscles
Patients with progressive conditions, such as arthritis, aren’t as likely to benefit from cartilage restoration surgery as otherwise healthy individuals. Positive results are also more likely to be experienced when cartilage damage is relegated to a single area. The knee is where cartilage restoration is usually performed. Shoulders and ankles may also be treated with restoration techniques.