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Understand Your Joints: What Is Cartilage?

We explain what cartilage is and how it functions in our joints.

Most of us take for granted the smooth, painless movements we use to set a table, open a door, or walk to the mailbox. Each of these daily activities engages multiple joints in the body. Bone moves against bone in our joints as we open and close our hand, bend our elbow, and extend our leg to take a step. Usually, we have no sense of friction during these movements thanks to the cartilage in our joints. Cartilage is a flexible connective tissue that keeps joint motion fluid by coating the surfaces of the bones in our joints and by cushioning bones against impact. It is not as rigid as bone, but is stiffer and less flexible than muscle tissue.

There are three types of cartilage, and the tissue of each type has distinct qualities.

For the most part, cartilage does not contain blood vessels or nerves, and is supplied with nutrients through the compression and flexion of the tissue. The cells divide slowly, with a very low turnover rate. Because cartilage has a very limited blood supply, it cannot repair itself easily compared to other types of connective tissue.

Cartilage tissues can be damaged by injury or by wear and tear over time. Without treatment, damaged cartilage may result in progressive arthritis. Because it is not able to heal well, a number of surgical techniques are available to stimulate growth of new cartilage, relieve pain, improve function, and delay or prevent the onset of arthritis.

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive sports medicine expertise

From Olympians to pro athletes to kids in youth sports and those that just want to be more active—Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.

Start your journey to stronger, healthier athletic condition. Find your sports medicine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a sports medicine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNVadnais Heights, MN, Plymouth, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.

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