Can knee cartilage repair without surgery? Cartilage is essential for the free and painless movement of any joint. A common injury to the knee is to the cartilage in the joint. Cartilage – often referred to as hyaline cartilage – in the knee is soft and spongy and has a number of functions. Firstly, it acts as a shock absorber, absorbing pressure and stopping bone on bone contact during jumping walking and running. Secondly, it maintains the synovial fluid (this is the medical term for the fluid within the joint) within the joint with the right concentrations of salts and other substances. Finally, it provides a smooth surface for joint movement to occur on. By having a smooth surface and stopping bone on bone contact (called eburnation) the joint is able to move freely and without pain. As such, when this cartilage is damaged, pain and an inability to move the joint can occur. This can come on slowly, in the case of osteoarthritis (which is due to long-term wear and tear on the joint) or suddenly, as in the case of a meniscus injury from a twisting motion in sports like Football or Tennis. Either way, the cartilage is often repaired using surgery – but this is associated with a number of risks and is not always ideal for older patients. So can knee cartilage repair without surgery?
One exciting new prospect is regenerative medicine. This stem cell therapy could cause cartilage regeneration. By taking knee cartilage regeneration supplements, patients avoid length and risky surgeries that can actually make the situation worse! There are a number of examples of regenerative medicine for knee cartilage including platelet-rich plasma therapy (whereby somebodies blood without the red blood cells) is given, Bone marrow-derived stem cell injections (as the name suggests, stem cells are taken from bone marrow), Amniotic derived stem cell injections (here stem cells are taken from the amniotic fluid that a baby is surrounded by in the mother’s womb). In platelet-rich plasma therapy, for example, all that is needed is a sample of the patients’ blood. After the platelets are sported out the doctor injects the liquid into the patient painful joint. This is much simpler than a lengthy surgical procedure where patients often have to stay in the hospital to recover. These therapies have been shown to be beneficial in smaller studies for a number of years now. Currently, larger scale studies are underway with promising results. In the future perhaps surgeries to repair cartilage (commonly in the knee but also the elbow, shoulder and other joints) may be a thing of the past!
As we have seen there are options for knee cartilage repair that do NOT involve risky surgery. Regenerative medicine could be the breakthrough many doctors have been waiting for as it is associated with so few risks and has so many benefits.