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Treatment

Minor cartilage damage may improve on its own within a few weeks, but more severe damage will often require surgery.

Initial treatment and self care

If you've injured your joint and your symptoms are not too severe – for example, you're still able to put weight on and move the joint – you can often look after yourself using PRICE therapy.

PRICE stands for:

If your joint is painful, take ordinary painkillers such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen.

Visit your GP if your symptoms have not started to improve after a few days of PRICE therapy.

Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy can be helpful if you have difficulty moving the affected joint. Your GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist, or you may choose to pay for private treatment.

A physiotherapist can teach you exercises to help strengthen the muscles surrounding or supporting your joint. This may help reduce pain and pressure on the joint.

Physiotherapy can also be useful when you're recovering from the surgical procedures described below.

Surgery

Severe cartilage damage does not tend to heal very well on its own, so surgery is often necessary in these cases.

Surgery is usually performed using arthroscopy – a type of keyhole surgery where instruments are inserted into the joint through small cuts (incisions) – although sometimes larger incisions need to be made.

It's normally carried out under general anaesthetic, where you're asleep.

Some of the main procedures are:

Talk to your surgeon about which type of surgery they think is best for you, what the possible risks are, and how long they expect it will take you to recover.

You'll usually need to take things easy for at least a few weeks after surgery, and you may not be able to return to strenuous activities and sports for several months.

Less common surgical procedures

There are also a number of alternative surgical techniques sometimes used to treat cartilage damage, including:

These procedures are only carried out in a few hospitals in the UK and are not routinely provided on the NHS. You may be able to pay for them privately, but they can be very expensive.

For more information about autologous chondrocyte implantation see: