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How Articular Cartilage Repair May Prevent the Need for Joint Replacement Surgery

One possible alternative to joint replacement surgery is a new medical technology called articular cartilage restoration. This treatment is intended to prevent the need for invasive total joint replacement surgery, which takes time to heal and requires follow-up physical therapy. Articular cartilage covers the ends of bones that meet together to form joints. The purpose of cartilage is to cushion the bones so they can glide over each other with minimal friction, but cartilage may gradually break down through injury or normal age-related wear and tear.

Medical intervention is sometimes necessary to treat lost or damaged cartilage because the body isn’t usually efficient at healing it. Some patients qualify for articular cartilage restoration surgery that requires a single-stage implantation of donor cells or harvesting the patient’s own cells and replanting them in the weakened area.

Treatment Options to Restore Cartilage

Cartilage restoration surgery includes minimally invasive procedures that use an arthroscope. The arthroscope is a small camera that is introduced into a small incision along with tiny surgical instruments. This is a minimally invasive alternative to opening the area with a larger incision to visualize the areas directly, and it often leads to quicker healing and better patient outcomes.

Some of the ways cartilage restoration is initiated are through:

  • Microfracture: This stimulates cartilage growth to create a new blood supply to the weakened area. Sharp surgical instruments make multiple holes on the joint surface to initiate a healing response to start the production of more cells to form new cartilage.
  • Drilling: Like microfracture, this stimulates the production of cartilage by drilling holes through the weakened area, so the body goes through its natural healing process.
  • Abrasion: This technique is similar to drilling and is used to remove damaged cartilage and stimulate the body’s healing response.
  • Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation: This two-step procedure involves growing new cartilage cells and implanting them in the weakened area. In a follow-up procedure after 3 to 5 weeks, the newly grown cells are injected into the defective area. This treatment is used for isolated full-thickness (down to bone) articular cartilage defects of the knee.
  • Stem cells: Extracting stem cells from the patient’s own bone marrow and then injecting them into the injured area to turn them into new cartilage cells.

Is Cartilage Restoration Right for Me?

Most patients who benefit from articular cartilage restoration are under the age of 40 and have cartilage damage resulting from an injury. Usually, older patients with wear-and-tear-related cartilage loss do not benefit as much and will require joint replacement surgery. Cartilage regeneration is possible in some patients to prevent or delay the need for joint replacement surgery. Your orthopedic surgeon can help answer what the best treatment is for you.

To learn more about articular cartilage restoration and total joint replacement, please contact our orthopedics practice by dialing (727) 300-2537 to schedule your consultation.