damaged cartilage

Damaged Cartilage: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Cartilage plays a pivotal role in the human body, acting as a buffer between bones in the joints. When damaged, it can lead to a range of uncomfortable and debilitating symptoms. Recognizing the importance of understanding damaged cartilage, this article aims to outline its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments.

Symptoms of Damaged Cartilage

Understanding the symptoms associated with damaged cartilage is vital. Some key indicators include:

  1. Joint Pain: This is often the first sign many notice. The pain can vary from a persistent ache to a sharp sting, especially when using the affected joint.
  2. Stiffness: A stiff joint can make movements challenging, with the rigidity being more pronounced after a period of rest or in the mornings.
  3. Swelling: Inflammation can cause the joint to swell, leading to further discomfort and a visible change in appearance.
  4. Limited Movement: Damaged cartilage can significantly restrict the range of motion in a joint, making everyday tasks problematic.
  5. Grating Sensation: The sensation of bones grinding against each other is not only uncomfortable but also a clear sign of cartilage wear or absence.

Causes of Damaged Cartilage

While damaged cartilage can affect anyone, certain factors increase the risk:

  1. Age: Aging is a natural process, but it brings along wear and tear. Over decades, cartilage can deteriorate, leading to osteoarthritis.
  2. Injury: Accidents, sports-related injuries, or even simple missteps can harm cartilage. Athletes are especially prone given the physical demands of their activities.
  3. Genetics: Our genes play a role in our overall cartilage health. Some inherit conditions that predispose them to weaker cartilage or related issues.
  4. Overuse: Repetitive actions, common in some professions or activities, can wear down cartilage over time.
  5. Medical Conditions: Rheumatoid arthritis, infections, or benign and malignant tumors can also damage cartilage.

Treatment for Damaged Cartilage

Thankfully, medical advances have provided several treatments:

  1. Physical Therapy: Specialized exercises can strengthen surrounding muscles, providing better joint support and reducing pain.
  2. Medications: While over-the-counter painkillers can alleviate mild discomfort, severe cases may require prescription-strength solutions or corticosteroid injections.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs):
    • Examples: Ibuprofen (brands like Advil and Motrin), Naproxen Sodium (Aleve), and Aspirin.
    • Purpose: These drugs reduce inflammation and alleviate pain by inhibiting enzymes that contribute to inflammation in the joints.
    • Considerations: Prolonged use can lead to gastrointestinal issues, kidney problems, and an increased risk of heart disease. It’s essential to follow the recommended dose and consult with a healthcare professional if you need them long-term.
  • Prescription NSAIDs:
    • Examples: Celecoxib (Celebrex), Diclofenac (Voltaren, Cambia), and Indomethacin.
    • Purpose: These are often prescribed for severe inflammation and pain when OTC options don’t suffice.
    • Considerations: They have a similar risk profile to OTC NSAIDs, with potential gastrointestinal and cardiovascular issues. Regular monitoring by a physician is advised.
  • Corticosteroid Injections:
    • Examples: Cortisol, Methylprednisolone (Depo-Medrol), and Betamethasone.
    • Purpose: These are directly injected into the affected joint to reduce inflammation and pain.
    • Considerations: The relief might be temporary, and there’s a limit to the number of injections due to potential side effects like joint infection or nerve damage.
  • Disease-modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs):
    • Examples: Methotrexate (Trexall, Rheumatrex) and Hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).
    • Purpose: Used for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis that can cause cartilage damage. They act by modulating an overactive immune system.
    • Considerations: Regular monitoring is needed due to potential side effects like liver damage or severe lung infections.
  • Hyaluronic Acid Injections:
    • Purpose: This treatment mimics the natural fluid in our joints, providing lubrication and potentially reducing pain.
    • Considerations: Some might experience pain at the injection site or an allergic reaction.
  • Topical Pain Relievers:
    • Examples: Capsaicin (Zostrix, Capzasin), Diclofenac gel (Voltaren), and Salicylates (Aspercreme, Bengay).
    • Purpose: These offer localized relief when applied directly to the skin over the painful joint.
    • Considerations: They can cause skin irritation or rashes in some users.
  • Opioids:
    • Examples: Tramadol (Ultram, Conzip) and stronger opioids like hydrocodone or oxycodone.
    • Purpose: Used for severe pain when other treatments are ineffective.
    • Considerations: Risk of dependency, constipation, and dizziness, with life-threatening risks in case of overdose.
  • Medical Marijuana:
    • Purpose: Medical marijuana, where legal, can be prescribed for chronic pain relief, including that caused by damaged cartilage. The cannabinoids in marijuana can help modulate pain signals in the body.
    • Considerations: The use of medical marijuana can come with side effects like dizziness, dry mouth, altered perception, and dependency concerns. It’s also crucial to consider legal implications based on one’s jurisdiction and to use it under strict medical supervision.
  1. Hyaluronic Acid Injections: These aim to replicate the natural joint fluid, potentially offering lubrication and movement improvement. Mayo Clinic offers an insightful look into this procedure.
  2. Surgery: When other treatments fail, surgical options like arthroscopy, cartilage grafting, or joint replacements may be necessary.
  3. Lifestyle Adjustments: Weight management, avoiding strenuous activities, and engaging in low-impact exercises can prevent further damage.
  4. Alternative Treatments: Some have found solace in acupuncture, supplements like glucosamine, or practices like tai chi.


Damaged cartilage, while troublesome, is not unbeatable. By understanding its symptoms and causes, you can seek the most suitable treatments and reclaim your quality of life. Should you suspect damaged cartilage, promptly consult a healthcare professional. Your joints are integral to your daily life; giving them the care they deserve is paramount.