Take Good Care of Your Cartilage

March 24, 2011

If you’re a runner, cyclist, skier, triathlete, yogi or else you have probably met, spoken or heard of somebody that had major cartilage problems...in the worst case scenario you might be the person experiencing this (though I hope not!)
Sometime such injury is so severe that people are forced to quit for good whatever sport they are practising.

Runners should especially be aware of the injuries that might occur to their cartilage and try their best to prevent it because once the damage is done there’s almost no way back.

What is the cartilage?

Cartilage is a type of connective tissue in the body. It is made of cells called chondrocytes embedded in a matrix, strengthened with fibers of collagen and sometimes elastin, depending on the type of cartilage.
I know, it’s pretty complicated stuff but that what it is!
There are three different types: hyaline cartilage, elastic cartilage, andfibrocartilage. Cartilage serves to provide structure and support to the body's other tissues without being as hard or rigid as bone. It can also provide a cushioning effect in joints.
Cartilage is avascular, meaning that it is not supplied by blood vessels; instead, nutrients diffuse through the matrix.
Cartilage is usually flexible, again depending on the type. Some of the bodily structures that include cartilage are the ears, nose, ribcage, and intervertebral discs.
1) Hyaline cartilage makes up the majority of the body's cartilage. It lines the bones in joints, helping them to articulate smoothly. Hyaline cartilage contains mostly collagen fibers.
2) Elastic cartilage is more flexible than the other types of cartilage because of the elastin fibers it contains. This type of cartilage is found in the outer ear and the larynx, for example. It provides the perfect balance of structure and flexibility and helps keep tubular structures open.
3) Fibrocartilage is the strongest and most rigid type of cartilage. It contains more collagen than hyaline cartilage, including more type I collagen, which is tougher than type II. Fibrocartilage makes up the intervertebral discs, connects tendons and ligaments to bones, and appears in other high-stress areas. Damaged hyaline cartilage is often replaced with fibrocartilage, which unfortunately does not bear weight as well due to its rigidity.

Damages to cartilage

Cartilage structures and functions can be damaged. Such damage can result from a variety of causes, such as a bad fall or traumatic sport-accident, previous knee injuries or wear and tear over time. Immobilization for long periods can also result in cartilage damage (so, get your ass off that couch, if you know what I mean!)
Articular cartilage damage in the knee may be found on its own but it will more often be found in conjunction with injuries to ligaments and menisci.
People with previous surgical interventions face more chances of articular cartilage damage due to altered mechanics of the joint.
Articular cartilage does not usually regenerate (the process of repair by formation of the same type of tissue) after injury or disease leading to loss of tissue and formation of a defect. There are several surgical techniques that have been developed recently in an effort to repair articular cartilage defects.
Articular cartilage has a very limited capacity for self repair. Small damage does not repair itself and can often get worse over time. As cartilage is aneural and avascular (which means that it does not have nerves ramifications, small damage often does not trigger pain and thus is overlooked.
But, when the damage increases and the chondral defect reaches the subchondral bone, the blood supply in the bone starts a healing process in the defect. Scar tissue made up of a type of cartilage called fibrocartilage is then formed. Although fibrocartilage is able to fill in articular cartilage defects its structure is significantly different to that of hyaline cartilage; it is much denser and it doesn't withstand the demands of everyday activities as much as hyaline cartilage. It is therefore at a higher risk of breaking down.

Recent researches have found that small articular cartilage defects can progress to osteoarthritis over time if left untreated. An articular cartilage defect that initially may be small still has the potential to have a physical and chemical "domino effect" on the surrounding "normal" articular cartilage.
Though articular cartilage damage is not life threatening, it does strongly affect one's quality of life. Articular cartilage damage is often the cause of severe pain, knee swelling, substantial reduction in mobility and severe restrictions to one's activities.
Fortunately, over the last decades research has focused on regenerating damaged joints.
These regenerative procedures are believed to delay osteoarthritis of injuries on the articular cartilage of the knee, by slowing down the degeneration of the joint compared to untreated damage. These articular cartilage repair procedures offer the best results when the intervention takes place in the early stages of the cartilage damage.

How to prevent it?

Before starting any major activities, do a proper warm up to prepare your body.  
This will allow your muscles and joints ready for the tough activity.
In addition, avoid activities that are too risky and painful to the body, or be ready to face the consequences if something goes wrong. Also, you should give yourself a good rest every after strenuous activity or a recovery time in the interval of workouts or training.  
Another thing is to workout the flexibility of your muscles especially the meniscus; daily stretching is essential to keep it in good condition. I really want to stress this point out, stretching is very good not only for improving muscle flexibility but mostly to prevent joints injuries. So, always remember to do your stretching.

Moreover, good footwear makes you walk or run comfortably with your knees rest firmly. Especially with running, you should be careful to change your shoes often (at least every two/ three months depending on how many miles you run every week!)
Strapping or taping is another way to provide an extra support to the stability of weak knees.
Identifying the different preventive measures to avoid knee cartilage damage is necessary to maintain your healthy condition.  Consider the various tips provided to see to it that you are helping your bones and muscles to be in good shape.  In case of accidents and injury, consult your physician immediately.  Being aware of knee cartilage damage will help you determine the right actions to treat it.



  1. It is worth mentioning the effects of dehydration on our cartilages (and tendons). Cartilages are comprised of over 70 percent water!

  2. So true Kenneth, thanks for that!

  3. Good writeup., really helps.. can you also add up on prevention of any food items or any specific food or fruit which strengthens cartialage!

    1. Hi Mahesh,
      Gonna write soon a post on that specific topic, stay tuned!

  4. I have had artroscopy 3 times this year ,a slight tear on my meniscus and have grade 3 artritis , i play football ata high level ! I am 3 weeks on now any advice?