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Published on November 15, 2017

man with shoulder pain

Find Lasting Knee & Shoulder Pain Relief Through Cartilage Restoration

When was the last time you thought about your cartilage? Hopefully you haven’t had to think about it in a while. Because when your cartilage is working properly, your joints move without pain. Cartilage helps you move seamlessly throughout your day without thinking about it.

But when it’s damaged, you’ll know it by the pain, discomfort and potential swelling around your joints.

Why is Cartilage Important?

Cartilage is a connective tissue found throughout the body. It’s thick, smoother than ice and lines the ends of bones where they meet to form a joint. Because it has no nerve supply, it acts as a protective cushion that allows you to move without pain.

However, cartilage also lacks a blood supply. That means, if injured, cartilage doesn’t heal well on its own. That’s where cartilage restoration comes in.

These innovative procedures use healthy, strong cartilage to replace areas of your joint where cartilage is damaged or worn down. It not only alleviates pain and swelling, but may also prevent the development of arthritis and the need for a joint replacement in the future. 

Is Cartilage Restoration Right for Me?

“Ideal candidates for cartilage restoration are active adults – from teenagers to adults in their 50s – who have chronic knee or shoulder pain caused by cartilage damage,” says Matthew Blake, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Avera Orthopedics.

That kind of damage can be caused by a traumatic injury – such as a dislocation or fracture – or the simple wear and tear that comes with sports or physical activity.

“It’s a great alternative for those who’ve already tried anti-inflammatory medications, injections and physical therapy without the pain relief they need,” he adds. “It offers them new hope that they’ll be able to get back to the activities they enjoy.”

If an MRI shows cartilage loss, damage or defect, Blake recommends a diagnostic arthroscopy. This minimally-invasive procedure allows him to look closely at that cartilage and determine which type of cartilage procedure is the best fit.

Quick Recovery with Micro-Fracture

A good option for those – such as competitive athletes – who want to return to their activities within four to five months is a micro-fracture procedure. During this procedure, the surgeon cleans the cartilage and creates small holes in the bone to promote growth of a new scar tissue type of cartilage.

“The downtime is shorter and the return to sport is faster, but the benefits of it have less longevity,” says Blake. “Typically, it works really well for about two to three years, so it’s a good short-term solution.”

Long-Term Pain Relief with MACI, OAT and OAC

For those looking for long-term pain relief and willing to wait 12-18 months for a near full recovery, there are three additional options.

During the matrix autologous chondrocyte implantation (MACI) procedure, a small biopsy of cartilage is taken and used to grow new cartilage in a specialized lab.

“Sometimes simply cleaning up and smoothing the cartilage can bring pain relief for a period of time. If the pain comes back within five years, we can go back and implant the new cartilage that was grown in the lab,” describes Blake.

If you have enough cartilage to spare and the area with the defect is small, your own healthy cartilage can be transferred to the damaged area through osteochondral autograft transfer (OAT).

For larger areas, the surgeon can use cartilage from a cadaver through a procedure known as osteochondral allograft transplant (OAC).

Get Moving Again with Comprehensive Care

Cartilage restoration procedures are relatively quick – typically lasting less than an hour – and patients can return home the same day. The path to full recovery, however, requires time and dedication. Rehabilitation includes physical therapy, strength training and, depending on your goals, sports specific training for competitive athletes.

“These are great procedures,” says Blake. “They do take patience; however, within 12 – 18 months patients say they feel like a new person. So it’s time well spent.”

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