CNY Orthopedic Sports Medicine, PC: Injury: Cartilage Defects

Injuries and Conditions: Knee: Cartilage Defects

A cartilage defect is a condition resulting from the localizied loss of cartilage on the inside of the knee. This may lead to pain, stiffness, swelling and occassionally, locking within the joint; a cartilage defect differs from arthritis in that it is generally more localizied in nature. If untreated, a defect may allow the major leg bones (the femur and tibia) to come into contact with one another, which is a painful condition. Additionally, arthritis may develop, leading to worsening pain and symptoms.
  • Conditions can vary in severity, depending upon the location and the extent of degeneration of cartilage within the knee.
  • Heredity, intensity of athletic activity, and the extent of previous injury to the knee all play a role in determining the amount of degeneration to the cartilage.
  • The damaged cartilage cannot heal itself. Current treatments can effectively restore the cartilage surface and relieve symptoms. However, these treatments are effectively only if the defects are relatively localizied and are the source of pain and other symptoms.
  • Non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy is reserved for less advanced conditions and for patients with minimal symptoms.
  • Patients with severe conditions may require surgery to restore the cartilage surface in the area of the original defect. This creates a smooth surface on the cartilage capable of absorbing the impact of daily or athletic activities.

  • Signs and Symptoms
  • Although there is not a universal association between the severity of the condition and the patient's symptoms, more advanced cartilage damage is usually associated with more severe symptoms.
  • Discomfort and aching located within the knee joint or throughout the entire knee.
  • Pain while using the leg, especially during walking or running.
  • Pain while climbing or descending stairs or during movements that place considerable stress on the knee.
  • Discomfort or pain when initiating motion after keeping the knee motionless for an extended period of time.
  • A feeling or sensation of grinding, popping or snapping in the knee. This sensation may be more pronounced during flexion, extension, or twisting of the knee.


  • Contact the Doctor if ...
  • The patient has the signs and symptoms of cartilage defects.
  • After treatment, the patient experiences increasing pain or weakness in the joint.
  • The patient experiences unexplained symptoms, other types of pain, or unexpected side effects of medication.

  • Common Causes of Injury
  • Cartilage defects may occur following a traumatic injury to the knee, possibly in association with other problems such as ligament or meniscus tears (the soft cartilage that provides cushioning between the tibia and femur).
  • Cartilage defects may possibly arise from lesser traumatic events suchas the wear and tear of extended high-level activities.

  • Expectations of Recovery
  • Recovery times for cartilage defects vary according to the severity of the condition.
  • Minor cartilage defects may respond to physical therapy after motion in the joint is restored and the surrounding muscles are conditioned.
  • Crtilage defects that require surgery have a recovery period dependent upon the treatment method employeed and can range from 3 months to 18 months.
  • To help maintain a healthy knee, continued gentle use of the knee will be required. Running or other pounding and impact producing activities should be considerably reduced or eliminated.

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