Articular Cartilage Damage
The articular cartilage (also known as hyaline cartilage) is a firm and smooth substance on the surfaces of touching bones, helping to facilitate easy joint movement. Injury to such cartilage often arises in the knees, and can take a long time to recover due to the fact that the articular cartilage does not receive its own blood supply. Untreated, the condition can lead to early onset of osteoarthritis.
Prolonged pain in and around the knee joint, which may stop and start especially with movement. The knee might regularly lock in position and feel unmoveable. A lesser (but still valid) form of this symptom would be a slowness or choppiness in knee motion. There can also be significant noises emanating from the knee joint during movement, such as loud clicking. The knee will generally become swollen and might feel tender.
In sports and other activities, the articular cartilage can become damaged as a result of blunt trauma to the knee joint. This can include a forceful strike from a kicking leg or even a fast-moving cricket ball, and is especially likely to be caused by a rugby tackle or similar impact. Such blows can also provoke patellar injuries and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. These will be detected by a doctor and are common injuries occurring simultaneously with articular cartilage damage. Unnatural twisting movements might also lead to such injuries.
The severity of the cartilage injury will range from Grade 1 to Grade 4, with Grade 4 involving significant bone damage where Grade 1 involves very little. In some cases a Grade 4 condition can ultimately cause further major injuries such as a fracture to the subchondral bone.
If you suspect this injury, consult a medical professional. They will diagnose the condition and its severity, and will be able to assess whether there is any additional damage to the knee or surrounding areas. Sometimes an x-ray might be necessary. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory pain medication (such as ibuprofen) in order to reduce the symptoms. Severe injuries can require surgery, particularly if a fracture is involved.
Self-Treatment and Rehabilitation
When surgery is unnecessary (or after surgery is completed), the doctor will recommend a program of rest for a number of weeks and a gradual increase in relevant exercise thereafter. During the rest period, depending on the injury and specific instructions it can be beneficial to keep the joint gently moving on occasion throughout the day; this helps to combat stiffness and possible atrophy. You should ice the area 2 to 3 times per day to reduce pain and swelling, and also try heat pads or warm showers. Talk to a physical therapist about suitable training and do not return to regular activity without a professional's approval.
Recovery time varies depending on the injury; 2 months is a good indicator but patients who undergo surgery may be out of action for longer.
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