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Knee

Knee Cartilage Injuries

Cartilage injures in the knee are common and can occur alone or in combination with damage to bone, ligaments, the meniscus.

Knee anatomy

There are three bones that form the knee joint – the thigh bone (the femur), the inner shin bone (the tibia), and the kneecap (the patella). Articular cartilage covers the ends of the bones in the joint to reduce friction allowing the bones to slide and rotate smoothly; and to help distribute loads across the joint.  Articular cartilage is slippery, tough, and flexible tissue that is easily injured and because it has only a limited blood supply is challenging to treat.

Additionally, there are two C shaped menisci in each knee, the inner or medial meniscus and outer or lateral meniscus. The menisci are pads of thick rubbery cartilage that sit within the knee joint to add an additional layer of protection and shock absorption and help to stabilize the knee.

The menisci are vital knee structures. Injury to the menisci is frequently called cartilage injury to the knee. Damage to knee cartilage is a common injury.

What is a chondral defect?

A chondral defect is a localized area of damage to the articular cartilage that covers the ends of the bones in the knee joint. The development of chondral defects can increase the risk and rate of progression to permanent disability.

What can cause damage to the knee cartilage?

  • Trauma to the knee from a bad fall or auto accident, or sports like skiing, and football, and sports that require pivoting can damage the articular cartilage and the menisci. Trauma to the knee increases the risk of post-traumatic osteoarthritis by 57%. Pain and disability may diminish the quality of life.
  • OA in the knee, caused by aging and wear and tear, breaks down the articular cartilage which frays and the space between the bones narrows. This allows the bones to rub together resulting in inflammation, pain, bone spurs and disability. Even small cartilage defects can progress to OA over time.

What are the symptoms of a cartilage injury?

  • pain and stiffness
  • swelling (inflammation)
  • catching or grinding sensation
  • joint locking or giving way
  • mobility limitations 

How is a knee cartilage injury diagnosed?

Dr. Petrigliano will discuss your knee problems with you, asking about any injuries, reviewing your medical history, and exploring your symptoms. X-rays will be ordered to reveal bone fractures and an MRI will reveal damage to the cartilage and other soft tissues in the knee. An MRI will also detect the depth and size of a cartilage defect which is important information when considering possible treatments.

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure to diagnose knee joint problems. Dr. Petrigliano may recommend arthroscopy to see inside the knee joint to confirm his diagnosis and in some cases to treat the cause of knee pain.

What are the types of cartilage injuries?

  • When a piece of cartilage breaks off and floats in the joint causing catching and locking of the knee.
  • Full thickness cartilage defects are often found in the presence of injury to the knee ligaments such as an ACL tear or meniscus damage.
  • Osteochondral defects refer to a local area of damage to the articular cartilage that also involves damage to the underlying bone.

What are the Treatment options?

Dr. Petrigliano will identify the type and extent of the cartilage defects in order to formulate a treatment plan based on the size of the defect, the patient’ s age and the existence of associated damage in the knee joint.

Why choose Dr. Petrigliano?

Dr. Frank Petrigliano is an orthopaedic surgeon who was fellowship trained in sports medicine and shoulder surgery at the prestigious Hospital for Special Surgery where he provided care to athletes of all ages. He currently serves as the head team physician for the LA Kings hockey team and associate team physician for USC Athletics. Dr. Petrigliano is a renowned orthopaedic surgeon and researcher who employs state of the art treatments and procedures to get you back to your active life and back to sport. He always treats his patients with compassion and respect. Dr. Petrigliano is located in El Segundo California, and serves greater Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, the South Bay, and the Santa Clarita Valley. Contact Dr. Petrigliano to schedule a consultation today.

At a Glance

Dr. Frank Petrigliano

  • Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at USC
  • Chief of the Epstein Family Center for Sports Medicine
  • Team physician for the LA Kings and USC Athletics
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