Arthritis and the Wear of Cartilage

There are two forms of cartilage in the knee, articular cartilage and the meniscus. Articular cartilage surrounds the surfaces of the bones that make up the knee. The articular cartilage prevents damage when the bones move and rub against one another. Resting on top of the articular cartilage are two wedges of cartilage that make up the meniscus. The meniscus distributes weight evenly throughout the leg. Without the meniscus, weight is applied unevenly to the bones, which results in arthritis of the knee.

Meniscus tears, which are also referred to as cartilage tears, involve pain and swelling in the knee. Sometimes meniscus tears also result in joint locking, which prevents the knee from fully straightening. The meniscus is basically really tough cartilage, which is made up of two menisci that conform to the surfaces of the bones. The menisci can be found on the surface between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone).

The two most common causes of meniscus tears are traumatic injury and degeneration. Athletes are prone to traumatic injuries that involve bending and twisting of the knee to result in meniscus tears. Older adults are more prone to degeneration because as people get older, age makes cartilage more susceptible to wear and tear.

Meniscus tears usually involve the following symptoms:

o Pain, swelling and tenderness

o Clicking and popping inside the knee

o Restricted motion

Meniscus Tear Treatment

Many meniscal tears, particularly chronic tears, can be treated non-operatively by physical therapy, strengthening exercises, medications and cortisone injections.

Surgery is not usually necessary to treat meniscus tears. Physical therapy is a more common treatment. Sometimes physical therapy is accompanied by medication and cortisone injections to alleviate pain.

Partial menisectomy surgery is the most common form of surgery for meniscus tears. It involves removal of the torn portion of the meniscus. Usually this is a good option if the tear is small. If the tear is large, surgeons have the option of repairing the meniscus with sutures or tacks instead of moving the torn section of the meniscus entirely.

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