What is Articular Cartilage + Arthritis?

What is Articular Cartilage?

Articular cartilage is the smooth, gliding surface covering the bones at our joints.  This unique and complex surface is an elastic-like, load-bearing cushion that allows joints to move in a frictionless, smooth manner.  It is sometimes easiest to think of it like the smooth surface of an iceskating rink that allows a skater to glide across the ice, or the coating on a teflon frying pan that allows food to easily slide out of the pan.  The photos below depict normal, healthy cartilage.  

Normal + Healthy Articular Cartilage

How is Articular Cartilage Injured?

Articular cartilage can be injured with normal wear and tear that comes with increasing age or genetics/hereditary, inactivity, obesity, overuse, chronic inflammation, bone malalignment and high-repetition/torsional joint motion seen with contact athletics or traumatic injury.  

Can Articular Cartilage Heal?

This surface has poor healing properties and can not repair itself, as it does not have blood vessels, lymphatics or nerves.  Its complex composition and poor healing properties make treating and repairing articular cartilage injuries a significant challenge.  Unfortunately, once cartilage is damaged, its ability to resist more wear or damage decreases.  

How does Articular Cartilage relate to Arthritis?

Arthritis, literally meaning “joint inflammation”, is an inflammatory cycle which involves wear and tear to the articular cartilage, which causes inflammation, which causes wear and tear to the cartilage, which causes inflammation an so on and so forth.  In osteoarthritis, the cartilage gradually wears away; like an ice rink that just had a hockey game played on it or the worn teflon coating on the frying pan causing food to stick to the pan, the worn treads on a tire, or a gravel, worn road.  The loss of cartilage contributes to inflammation, pain, bony abnormalities and activity limitations.  There are several degrees/stages of cartilage wear, as noted in our blog post about Outerbridge Changes.  The photos below depict arthritic, worn cartilage.

Worn + Arthritic Articular Cartilage