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Moira M.McCarthy, MD
Hospital for Special Surgery

Cartilage Repair/Replacement

Cartilage replacement is a surgical procedure performed to replace the worn out cartilage with the new cartilage. It is usually performed to treat patients with small areas of cartilage damage usually caused by sports or traumatic injuries. It is not indicated for those patients who have advanced arthritis of knee. Articular or hyaline cartilage is the tissue that covers bone surface of the knee which helps in smooth interaction between the two bones in knee joint. It has less capacity to repair by itself because there is no direct blood supply to cartilage.

Cartilage replacement helps relieve pain, restore normal function, and can delay or prevent the onset of arthritis. The goal of cartilage replacement procedures is to stimulate growth of new hyaline cartilage. Various arthroscopic procedures involved in cartilage replacement include:

  • Microfracture: Microfracture involves creating numerous tiny holes in injured joint surface using a special tool, called ‘awl’. The holes are made in the bone under the cartilage, called as subchondral bone. This creates a new blood supply to the cartilage which stimulates the growth of new cartilage.
  • Drilling: This procedure is similar to microfracture where multiple holes are created in the injured joint area using a surgical drill or wires.
  • Abrasion Arthroplasty: This procedure is similar to drilling but involves use of high speed burs to remove the damaged cartilage.
  • Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation: In this procedure, plugs of cartilage is taken from the non-weight bearing areas of knee, from the same individual and transferred to the damaged areas of the joint. This method is used to treat smaller cartilage defects since the graft which is taken from the same individual will be limited.

Following cartilage replacement your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help restore mobility to the affected joint.