When things we use all the time break or wear out, we routinely fix or replace them. In the past, however, there was a noteworthy exception. If you wore out or injured a joint, it couldn’t be fixed. You could be left with pain, limited movement or worse for the rest of your life.
Now, thanks to advances in modern medicine, we can repair or replace a variety of joints. Surgical procedures may be recommended if treatments such as physical therapy or special injections are insufficient.
The goal of joint treatment is generally to use the least invasive and most effective approach available. The goal of any treatment is to restore the normal range of motion without pain.
Joint repair and replacement has become commonplace. Depending on the type and extent of damage to a joint, several treatment options are available.
Cartilage is the firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of your bones where they rub together. Cartilage is also in body parts such as your ears, nose and windpipe. Cartilage is what allows your ears and nose to hold their shape but remain bendable.
In the joint, cartilage helps the joint move smoothly. It’s also a shock absorber.
An injury can disconnect cartilage from the bone or break it into pieces.
With a cartilage repair procedure, an orthopedic surgeon will make one or more small incisions. They'll be near the joint. The procedure is called arthroscopy — minimally invasive orthopedic surgery. During the surgery a small camera and miniature surgical tools are slipped into the incision. Using these tools, the surgeon can smooth out cartilage damage. Pieces that may have broken off can be removed. In some cases, your surgeon can reattach cartilage to the bone.
After the procedure, the surgeon will close the small incisions. With minimally invasive surgery, you’ll likely heal faster, be more comfortable and start your rehabilitation sooner. This helps you get back to your normal routine faster.
If a cartilage defect persists, there are several cartilage restoration procedures. Transfer of cartilage from a low stress area or the use of a fresh cadaver graft can resurface the defect. Micronized, or small particles of cartilage can be mixed with your concentrated blood to create BioCartilage. There are also cold preserved thin patches of cartilage and bone which can be implanted over defects which provides living cartilage cells. Another option to relieve joint problems is to surgically harvest cartilage cells from one of your healthy joints. Those cells are then multiplied in a laboratory over the course of a month or so. Following the growth process, surgeons implant or attach to new cartilage into the area where the cartilage is damaged. Since you donate your own cells, there’s no issue with rejection.
These procedures are typically most beneficial for younger patients whose injuries fit the procedure criteria.
Your meniscus is the C-shaped cartilage in the knee. It sits between your shine bone and thigh bone. Our surgeons have many techniques to repair meniscal tears, and this helps preserve the joint and delay arthritis.
If you severely injure the meniscus, your health care professional may suggest a meniscus transplant. This is typically considered if other treatment options can’t resolve the issues.
Typically, using a few small incisions around the knee, the surgeon will insert miniature tools to remove the old meniscus. It's then replaced by a meniscus from a donor.
Your health care provider will explain the recovery process, which will likely include wearing a brace or using crutches. Rehabilitation and/or physical therapy may be recommended to help you regain your full range of motion.
If you have joint discomfort, you can start by visiting with your primary care provider. You may be referred to an orthopedic specialist who focuses on bone, joint and muscle care. If you’re ready to see an orthopedic specialist now, you can go online to find a provider.
If you enjoy an active lifestyle or are an athlete, you’ll want to be familiar with sports health providers in your area. They can provide effective non-surgical and surgical treatments along with rehabilitation and therapy for sports related injuries.