Kicking Knee Pain with Cartilage Replacement: May 18, 2014

It’s the shock absorber of your knee joint. Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones in the knee. When articular cartilage is damaged or deteriorates, it causes significant pain. Up to now, doctors had few options.

“The articular cartilage doesn’t really grow at all. So the number of cells you’re born with, is the number of cells you’ll have. Unless you lose some,” says Dr. John Kagan. He is on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

And people do lose cartilage. The result of arthritis, injury or repetitive use. Those without arthritis and an otherwise healthy knee may be candidates for a cartilage replacement procedure.

“Most of the people I do this on are younger people who are injured in sports. Someone who tears a ligament and knocks a chunk or cartilage off the bone,” says Dr. Kagan.

Here’s how it works: doctor’s remove a small segment of cartilage and bone from a non-weight bearing, non-contact area. Then transplant it to the damaged area.

“You’ll actually oversize the donor site so you force that bone and cartilage to fit in,” says Dr. Kagan. “Underneath that articular cartilage is bone and that bone will actually grow in and become a solid part.”

Timing is everything in this procedure. If damaged cartilage is not treated, it can get worse and eventually require more drastic, knee replacement surgery.

“If we can take some precautions early on, and treat things earlier, then we slow down the progression of the damage.”

Patients who undergo this procedure can expect to stay off the leg for about 6 weeks while the cartilage infiltrates it’s new home.

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