Cartilage loss is characterized by a reduction in the volume and thickness of the cartilage. This usually occurs after the cartilage wears out or deteriorates. When it comes to cartilage loss due to a severe case of osteoarthritis, the space in the joint contracts down and the bone brushes on bone after the cartilage loss occurs. At this point, there is little or no cartilage left to perform its task as a shock absorber.
Among those who have osteoarthritis, cartilage loss is a big factor that contributes to the progression of the disease. The cartilage functions as a cushion inside the joint and as a shock absorber. Once the cartilage is damaged or worn out, the affected joint becomes rigid, painful and has diminished range of motion. These are the symptoms that will urge the individual to consult a doctor to determine what is wrong with the joints.
Factors that predict cartilage loss in the knee joint
Based on studies conducted, cartilage loss in the knee joint can be predicted by 3 factors namely – lateral meniscal damage, medial meniscal damage and varus misalignment.
The major risk factors that contributes to fast cartilage loss include meniscus tears, cartilage damage, other injuries to the meniscus and severe lesions evident on the MRI.
Joint effusion and synovitis are also predictors for cartilage loss. It is interesting to note that excess weight is also a significant factor as well. An increase in the body mass index (BMI) can lead to a higher risk for rapid cartilage loss.
How to slow down the cartilage loss
Conservative treatment involves measures to alleviate the pain and inflammation as well as reduce the strain on the joint. There is no proof that these can promote growth of cartilage but can slow down the cartilage loss. The commonly used measures include the following:
- Weight loss
- Physical therapy exercises
- Supplements such as chondroitin phosphate and glucosamine
- Steroid injection into the joint
Restoration of articular cartilage
Surgical measures that can be used to restore the cartilage instead of replacing the joint are commonly performed on younger individuals.
- Arthroscopic procedures include drilling, microfracture and abrasion arthroplasty which causes minor areas of impairment and encourages the regrowth of cartilage.
- Graft procedures involves the implantation of fresh cartilage cells or whole areas of cartilage. One is autologous chondrocyte implantation in which the cartilage cells of the individual are harvested and implanted in areas where they are needed. As for osteochondral transplantation, it involves taking of plugs of tissues either from the individual or from a cadaver donor and then grafted into the joint.