Knee Cartilage Restoration Q&A

The cartilage in the knee joint is called articular cartilage. Articular cartilage is the material that covers the ends of the bones. It acts as a shock absorber allowing the knee to move smoothly, and prevents the bones from rubbing against one another. Every year in the U.S., more than 6 million people suffer damage to the articular cartilage in their knees. If the damage is not treated, it can lead to arthritis and the need for a knee replacement.

What causes cartilage damage in the knee?

Many different things can cause damage to the cartilage in the knee, everything from a single injury to repetitive use, and aging which causes wear and tear on the cartilage. Athletes and people who are physically active have higher rates of cartilage injury and damage.

Will cartilage damage affect my ability to play sports? Cause disability?

Yes, cartilage damage will definitely affect your ability to play sports and lead an active lifestyle. In fact, cartilage damage can progress to a point that it causes problems and disability even with simple things in daily life like walking around or climbing stairs.

What are the symptoms of cartilage damage?

Pain is the main symptom associated with cartilage damage, but this can be accompanied by swelling and clicking. Dr. Van Thiel will ask specific questions to determine if your issue is cartilage related.

Can damaged cartilage heal on its own?

Cartilage damage cannot heal itself.  However, it can become less painful.  Reduction in pain typically happens within the first 4-6 weeks from the onset of problems. If pain has been occurring longer than this, the chance of “healing” or a decrease in pain is low.  Think of a pothole in the road. As this pothole gets bigger, it will cause more and more issues, and it does not have the ability to “fill” itself in.

Can damaged cartilage cause joint damage?

Yes. Cartilage damage can cause further joint damage because the rough area of the cartilage defect will rub against healthy parts of the knee during motion. This can lead to further destruction of the joint.  Imagine sand paper rubbing on a smooth surface. This is what happens in the knee with cartilage damage. That smooth surface will eventually wear and become rough like the sand paper, and cause pain.

Can damaged cartilage cause arthritis?

Yes, damage to or the loss of a piece of cartilage can cause arthritis in the knee. This is a difficult situation because Dr. Van Thiel is able to replace a missing piece of cartilage with new cartilage, but once arthritis occurs the option of cartilage restoration becomes very limited.

Who is a good candidate for cartilage restoration?

Anyone who leads an active lifestyle but feels limited by pain, swelling and dysfunction may be a candidate for cartilage restoration.  The best way to determine if you are a candidate is to schedule a consultation with for Dr. Van Thiel. He will examine your knee joint, and possibly order a specialized MRI to determine the health of the cartilage surfaces, and whether you would be a good candidate for restoration.

What treatments are available to repair cartilage damage?

Orthopedic research and technology continues to advance and more options to repair cartilage loss continue to emerge. The three main groups of possible treatments for cartilage damage include the use of a patient’s own cartilage cells, stem cells, or donor cartilage.  Within each group there are different techniques and these options can be tailored to fit the specific patient and problem.

What is microfracture and when will it be recommended?

Microfracture refers to drilling into a patient’s bone around a cartilage defect to stimulate the release of stem cells and blood that can create a “cartilage like” replacement for cartilage damage. But, the new cartilage is not as good as the original cartilage. Microfracture is widely used, but Dr. Van Thiel believes that there are currently better options for cartilage replacement that can restore a more normal joint.

What is cartilage restoration?

Cartilage restoration refers to replacing a damaged area of cartilage with new cartilage.

There are three groups of cartilage restoration options:

  • obtaining and growing a patient’s own cartilage cells,
  • using stem cells
  • or donor cartilage.

Cartilage restoration has many benefits including improving function, reducing pain, preventing future joint damage and allowing patients to return to an active lifestyle.

What are the various cartilage restoration techniques?

Within the 3 groups listed above (patient’s own cartilage, stem cells, and donor cartilage), there are specific techniques available that Dr. Van Thiel may utilize. MACI is a procedure that uses a small sample of a patient’s cartilage to grow more cartilage. This new cartilage is then placed onto a scaffold and glued in place in the knee. This sheet will then grow new healthy cartilage in a patient’s knee.

Dr. Van Thiel is also involved in multiple FDA studies on the use of stem cells for cartilage restoration.  In these cases, stem cells are harvested from a patient’s bone marrow and placed in a biodegradable scaffold that is implanted into the defect and grows new cartilage. Lastly, donor cartilage and bone represent a “ready-made” option.  In these cases, unhealthy bone and cartilage are removed and replaced with donor cartilage and bone that matches the patient’s joint exactly. Ultimately, all of these techniques are excellent options. Dr. Van Thiel will discuss which one is best for your specific situation.

If you’re having knee pain, joint instability or other symptoms, one of the worst things you can do is ignore it. As a leading provider of state-of-the-art knee treatments for patients in Wisconsin and Illinois including Rockford, Elgin, Huntley, Dekalb, Crystal Lake, Barrington, McHenry, and Beloit, Dr. Van Thiel is skilled in providing individualized care based on each patient’s unique needs so they can enjoy the best outcome possible. To learn more about knee pain causes and treatments, call Ortho Illinois at 815-398-9491 and schedule your consultation and evaluation today.



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Patient Stories

Life changing patient stories

Read about Jack a multi-sport athlete, who suffered from a multi-ligament tear in his knee. Read about Abigail who fell and tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL). Life changing stories of patients healed by Dr. Geoffrey Van Thiel.

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