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What is Articular Cartilage?

By Nat Robinson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Articular cartilage is a white, smooth tissue which covers the ends of bones in joints. It enables bones of a joint to easily glide over one another with very little friction. This establishes easy movement. Many areas of the body can contain this kind of cartilage. Joints between the bones, knee, elbow, and rib cage are some typical locations.

Cartilage is a connective tissue that is stiff yet flexible. Some of the main types include fibrous, elastic, and hyaline. Fibrous cartilage may be found in such areas as between vertebral discs of the spinal cord. The outer ear, nose, and larynx are some locations of elastic. Hyaline cartilage, also referred to as articular cartilage, covers joint surfaces and additionally may be found in the shoulder and hips as well.

Acting as a cushion between joints, cartilage can help distribute the load of pressure and weight over the surface of joints. It also can serve as a shock absorber. Composed mainly of water and collagen, shock absorbency can be possible by the hydration in the tissue. Proper function is enabled by the arrangement of internal components and composition.

One articular cartilage function is to provide smooth and low-friction interaction between the bones of a joint. This may allow the withstanding of pressure and weight-bearing brought about by the motions of daily and athletic activities. By keeping the bones from gliding against each other, it can provide a measure of protection and a surface that is wear resistant. Tension and joint compression also may be better tolerated by this type of cartilage.

Normal wear and tear of everyday activities may cause articular cartilage damage. When cartilage wears away, the attached joints may become stiff, painful and face limited ranges of motion. Overuse, excessive weight and activity and improper alignment are some ways damage may occur. Additionally, articular cartilage injury may be caused by exercising, by playing sports, or be in conjunction with knee injuries. The fluidity of movement in the joints may be impaired by damages and injury.

Extreme stress on the bones of a joint may lead to the loss of cartilage. As a result, the bones may begin to rub together which can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort. A condition known as osteoarthritis may be a result of this process. Osteoarthritis may cause a degenerating articular surface which could be debilitating.

Symptoms of damage may include pain, swelling, stiffness, and a reduced range of joint movement. There also can be tenderness. Knee pain may be particularly common if the injured cartilage is in the knee. The sensation of joints catching or locking also may be a problem. If symptoms are too severe, it may be necessary to eliminate or adjust the activities which cause the most pain.

Damages may be diagnosed in a variety of ways. Plain X-rays generally are not very useful. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans often are used to make a diagnosis. A procedure known as arthroscopy also may be used. This involves making a keyhole to look directly inside the joint with a small camera.

Generally, there is no direct blood supply to the cartilage. If it is damaged or injured, an articular cartilage repair may be done with surgery. This may depend on the location of the injury as well as the extent of damage. Early detection and treatment can prevent further damage and the onset of other problems such as osteoarthritis. A doctor may make a proper diagnosis and help to decide the best treatment options for damages and injuries.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By angelBraids — On May 04, 2011

If you have articular cartilage pain the doctor may put you onto a treatment plan including pain meds and physical therapy.

There are other things you can do to help yourself too though. As well as icing the joint and trying water therapy, I recommend acupuncture. It really helps to bring relief and a decent nights sleep.

By Bakersdozen — On May 01, 2011

@Acracadabra - Sorry to hear about your sister's injury. It's good that she wants to lose weight, though this could be a challenge as I guess she won't be able to move around too much for a while.

I have personal experience of this problem, though not in my knee. The doctor told me that the cartilage can't grow back, instead it heals with scar tissue replacing it. So in the end any injury will leave your joint weaker.

Despite that, being at a good weight can only help recovery and your general health. I hope this isn't sounding too depressing!

By Acracadabra — On Apr 30, 2011

My sister was just diagnosed with an articular cartilage knee problem. I feel really bad for her as the pain is quite severe at the moment.

Although this happened when she fell while running for a bus, the doctor said her weight is partly to blame. If she can diet and reduce that, is it possible that she will recover completely?

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