What is cartilage?
We explain the role cartilage plays in your body and how it differs to bone and ligaments
According to the NHS, ‘cartilage is a tough, flexible tissue found throughout the body. It covers the surface of joints, acting as a shock absorber and allowing bones to slide over one another.’
Therefore if cartilage becomes damaged for any reason it compromises the joint's shock absorbing ability and causes friction in the joint as bones are forced to run against each other, causing discomfort and pain.
Damage is not uncommon with cartilage because it is in the areas of the body which come under the most stress including hips, ankles, elbows and most commonly, knees. Injury can come in the form of a sports injury; however, it also comes from general wear and tear, this is more widely recognised as osteoarthritis.
The body can't repair damage to cartilage as efficiently as damage to other tissues, like tendons and and bone, because, unlike the other tissues, cartilage is not fed nutrients via a blood supply, but instead nutrients need to diffuse through the perichondrium, (the dense connective tissue that surrounds the cartilage). This is not as efficient as a blood supply would be.
What's the difference between cartilage and ligaments?
A ligament is a band of tissue that connects bones to each other, and ensures the joint is stable, whereas cartilage is line of connective tissue that works as a padding between the bones. Cartilage allows the body to move freely by protecting the joints from rubbing against each other, and is harder and not as flexible as tendons and ligaments, but not as rigid as bone. It is made up of elastic fibres and, like ligaments, collagen.
Image above by Madhero88 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
What are the symptoms of cartilage damage?
Symptoms can include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, grinding around the joints and the joint locking or giving way. Minor cartilage injuries will usually gets better on their own within a few weeks, but if the pain persists or gets worse seek medical advice.
Find out more about cartilage at www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Cartilage