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Cartilage damage

Cartilage damage is a relatively common type of injury. It often involves the knees, although joints such as the hips, ankles and elbows can also be affected.

Cartilage is a tough, flexible tissue found throughout the body. It covers the surface of joints, acting as a shock absorber and allowing bones to slide over one another.

It can become damaged as a result of a sudden injury, such as a sports injury, or gradual wear and tear (osteoarthritis).

Minor cartilage injuries may get better on their own within a few weeks, but more severe cartilage damage may eventually require surgery.

Symptoms of cartilage damage

Symptoms of cartilage damage in a joint include:

It can sometimes be difficult to tell a cartilage injury apart from other common joint injuries, such as sprains, as the symptoms are similar.

When to get medical advice

If you've injured your joint, it's a good idea to try self care measures first. Sprains and minor cartilage damage may get better on their own within a few days or weeks.

More severe cartilage damage probably will not improve on its own. If left untreated, it can eventually wear down the joint.

Visit your GP or a minor injuries unit (MIU) if:

Your GP may need to refer you for tests such as an X-ray, MRI scan, or arthroscopy to find out if your cartilage is damaged.

Treatments for cartilage damage

Self care measures are usually recommended as the first treatment for minor joint injuries.

For the first few days:

Get medical advice if your symptoms are severe or do not improve after a few days. You may need professional treatment, such as physiotherapy, or possibly surgery.

A number of surgical techniques can be used, including:

Read more about how cartilage damage is treated.