Cartilage injuries – an overview

Cartilage injuries can affect any form of cartilage in the body. Cartilage is found in the form of osteochondral (hard) cartilage lining the joint surfaces, meniscal (soft) cartilage providing cushioning and movement control between joint surfaces and labral (firm) cartilage providing added integrity to ball and socket joint.

Osteochondral cartilage defect

An osteochondral cartilage defect is a cartilage injury that has a localised section of damaged cartilage, like a pot hole in a road. They are also referred to as a cartilage lesion.

They occur due to a single episode of overload, however symptoms are not always apparent at the time.

Symptoms include aching with activity and swelling after exercise.

The most effective approach is to reduce swelling with anti-inflammatory meds and control load on the area with strength exercises or bracing/taping.

Example: Talar dome lesion

Osteochondral degeneration

Osteochondral degeneration describes a broader area of cartilage damage, often seen during arthritic conditions.

It presents as aching at rest and on initial loading, often warming up with activity but stiffening up afterwards.

The most effective short term intervention of anti-inflammatory meds and the most effective long term intervention is strength training.

Example: Hip osteoarthritis

Acute meniscus tear

An acute meniscal tear is a split in the soft meniscus due to an episode of abnormal loading, commonly involving twisting + bending the joint while weight bearing.

It presents as a sudden sharp pain with residual swelling in the joint.

Symptoms include sharp pain from the tear “catching” in the joint and residual ache from the increased fluid in the knee.

The most effective intervention is compression for the swelling and strength exercises to control the movement of the joint.

Example: Knee meniscal tear

Degenerative meniscal tear

Degenerative meniscal tears are small tears or fraying of the thin edge of the meniscus due to exposure to prolonged periods of abnormal loading.

It can cause some soreness but often doesn’t have swelling associated with it.

The most effective approach is strength training to control movement at the joint.