Cartilage Replacement & Joint Preservation
When the cartilaginous tissues of our joints wear down, it can be replaced through a surgical procedure called Cartilage Replacement. Cartilage Replacement surgery can provide patients with mild to moderate loss of cartilage. It is important to note, however, that Cartilage Replacement is typically not recommended for patients who suffer from an advanced arthritic disease. Sports-related injuries or traumatic injuries can generate the level of cartilage damage that can be corrected through Cartilage Replacement surgery.
The various cartilaginous tissues of the synovial joints of the body cover and cushion the surfaces of the joint bones in order to facilitate movement and minimize friction. Unfortunately, cartilage does not have a high capacity for self-repair, and once it becomes damaged there is not enough blood flow to induce healing. This makes Cartilage Replacement procedures an extremely effective and necessary treatment option for most patients.
The primary goal of Cartilage Replacement surgery is to significantly reduce a patient’s perceived level of pain and discomfort. However, the procedure can also partially restore joint function and even stave off the onset of symptoms of arthritis.
Cartilage Replacement Surgery
Cartilage Replacement surgery is performed using a host of arthroscopic techniques. These include:
- Microfracture – The microfracture technique is a procedure in which tiny holes are drilled or perforated throughout the bone underlying the damaged cartilaginous tissue. Consequently, the damaged area’s permeability increases considerably, and blood flow increases. By generating a new path for increased bloodflow, damaged cartilage is given more access to critical healing factors.
- Drilling – The drilling technique is a variation of the microfracture technique that provides similar results and, as such, stimulates the production of new, healthy cartilage tissue.
- Abrasion Arthroplasty – For this procedure the surgeon will perform extensive tissue removal to expose the bone underneath the damaged cartilage utilizing high-speed burs. Abrasion arthroplasty is generally only performed on smaller sections of the joint.
- Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation – Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation, or ACI, is a state-of-the-art technique used to regenerate damaged cartilaginous tissues. During the procedure, cartilage cells, or chondrocytes, are harvested from the individual and then grown in a lab. Once enough cells have been cultured, the sample is put back into the patient’s diseased joint in order to alleviate pain.
- Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation – Osteochondral defects, or those of the cartilage tissues and underlying bones, can be difficult to treat long term. While most cartilage treatment strategies offer varying degrees of success, the Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation procedure has repeatedly provided longer lasting results and improved patient pain management. By utilizing grafts of healthy cartilage tissue from a donor, surgeons can provide the greatest potential for the joint to resume its peak natural performance.
Most of these procedures are minimally invasive and can be performed relatively hassle-free at outpatient facilities. While every patient’s experience following cartilage replacement varies, there are few things that all patients should keep in mind.
The first few days should be focused on reducing swelling, minimizing pain, eating a nutrient rich diet and resting. Most patients will take upwards of eight weeks before returning to normal activities, but full recovery can take anywhere from three to six months.