Navigating Knee Pain

If you're experiencing knee pain, it could be due to cartilage defects. These defects involve damage to the articular cartilage in your knee – the smooth substance covering bone ends, ensuring they don't rub together during movement. Cartilage damage varies in severity, from a mild soft spot (Grade I lesion) to extensive tears extending to the bone (Grade IV or full-thickness lesion). You might even have a piece of cartilage breaking off, causing further damage as it moves within the joint.

What is a cartilage defect?

A cartilage defect refers to damage in the articular cartilage, the smooth, resilient tissue covering the ends of your bones in joints like the knee. These defects can range from mild surface irregularities to deep tears reaching the bone.

Often caused by injury or wear and tear, they can lead to pain, swelling, and reduced joint mobility. As cartilage lacks its own blood supply, these defects don't heal easily, making timely diagnosis and treatment crucial.

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What are the symptoms of a cartilage defect?

Cartilage defects can create pain and sensations of catching or grinding in your knee. They may develop due to wear and tear or an injury, such as a sports-related fall or rapid directional change. Initially, you might not feel symptoms since cartilage lacks nerves. Over time, however, these defects can disrupt joint function, leading to pain, inflammation, and limited mobility.

As cartilage doesn't have a blood supply, your body struggles to repair these defects on its own. In severe cases, scar tissue known as fibrocartilage may grow, but it doesn't provide as smooth a gliding surface as your original cartilage.

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How is a cartilage defect diagnosed?

Diagnosing a cartilage defect involves a medical history review and a physical examination. Imaging tests like radiographs and MRI scans offer detailed views of the tissue and bone within your knee, helping to pinpoint the cause of your discomfort.

What is the treatment?

Treatment varies based on the defect's size, location, age, and activity level. For mild symptoms, conservative treatments like rest, knee braces, anti-inflammatory medications, and corticosteroid injections may help. However, surgical intervention is often necessary for significant relief from pain and other symptoms.

Surgical interventions for cartilage defects


If you're older and have milder symptoms, debridement might be an option. This procedure removes loose or damaged tissue through small incisions but doesn't repair the defects.


Common among athletes, microfracture repairs damaged knee cartilage. It involves creating small holes near the defects to stimulate new cartilage growth. The number of holes depends on the defect's size and location.

Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation (OATS)

OATS is used for smaller defects, such as transplanting healthy cartilage to the damaged area. Mosaicplasty, a variation of this procedure, involves moving cartilage from a healthy joint area to the damaged site.

Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation

This innovative procedure takes your healthy cartilage, multiplies it outside your body, and then implants it back onto the bone, providing renewed support.

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Why choose us?

At New York Sports & Joints, we understand how crucial knee health is to your daily life. Our team, comprising board-certified specialists with top-tier training, is committed to offering you the most advanced treatments for cartilage defects. We personalize your treatment plan, ensuring it aligns with your unique lifestyle and goals. From initial consultation to post-treatment care, we're dedicated to helping you regain mobility and reduce discomfort. Trust us to guide you through your journey to improved knee health with expertise, care, and compassion.

Cartilage Defects FAQ

What causes cartilage defects in the knee?

Cartilage defects often result from wear and tear over time, sports injuries, falls, or direct blows to the knee. They can also develop due to degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis.

Can cartilage defects lead to arthritis?

Yes, if left untreated, cartilage defects can worsen over time, leading to the development or exacerbation of arthritis in the knee by causing increased friction and wear on the joint.

Are there symptoms indicating a cartilage defect?

Symptoms may include knee pain, swelling, a sensation of the knee giving way, or a catching or grinding feeling within the joint. However, some cartilage defects may not show symptoms initially.

How are cartilage defects diagnosed?

Diagnosis typically involves a physical examination and imaging tests such as MRI scans, which provide detailed images of the cartilage and surrounding structures in the knee.

What are the treatment options for cartilage defects?

Treatment varies based on the severity of the defect. Options include conservative methods like physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications and surgical procedures such as microfracture surgery, osteochondral autograft transplantation, and autologous chondrocyte implantation.

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