Within the knee joint, the cartilage – the joint surface covering the ends of the bones – acts as a shock absorber that cushions the bones, allowing them to move smoothly. It can become damaged through arthritis or by an accident where the meniscus is torn during sports such as tennis, hockey, football or skiing.
If a fragment of cartilage is damaged or breaks away, it can cause:
- Pain, swelling and stiffness in the knee
- A sensation of grinding or clicking in the joint when it moves
- Difficulty carrying out everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs, bending, squatting and kneeling
- Knee instability (when your knee feels unstable and/or gives way)
- The joint catching or locking when you bend or straighten your knee
Your consultant will discuss your symptoms with you and examine your knee to check for tenderness, stiffness, swelling and any difficulties with movement. In most cases, they will arrange for you to have an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis of arthritis. They may also arrange for you to have a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to show any damage to the soft tissue (cartilage, tendons and muscles) in your knee.
Treatment options depend on a number of factors, including how much the damage is affecting your everyday life and activities.
- Non-surgical treatment includes resting the joint, elevating it, applying ice to minimise swelling and protecting it using a support such as a knee brace. In some cases, this can be enough to reduce your symptoms. However, you may need to make some lifestyle changes, along with having physiotherapy and taking painkillers (as prescribed by your doctor). You may also be offered injections to reduce inflammation in the joint
- Surgery: it’s unlikely that the cartilage will heal once it has been damaged. However, your consultant can carry out a number of procedures to help repair the damage. These include: