Introduction and Conservative Treatment
The articular cartilage is a layer of soft and smooth tissue that covers the articulating surfaces of two bones (figure 1). Articular cartilage contributes to smooth joint motion and load transmission and absorption.
Articular cartilage lesions are very difficult to treat because of the absence of blood supply. Hippocrates (ancient Greek physician) was the first to notice that articular cartilage injuries could not heal. As a result, failure to properly treat chondral and osteochondral injuries may lead to gradual extension of the lesion and eventually to osteoarthritis.
Articular cartilage injury may be acute or chronic and result from direct or shearing forces that cause partial or complete chondral defect (figure 2).
In some cases the defect may contain a portion of the subchondral bone resulting in osteochondral lesion (figure 3). Osteochondral lesions may be the result of non-traumatic causes such as osteochondritis dissecans and osteonecrosis. They are usually located in the knee but they are also found in the ankle, hip, shoulder, elbow and other joints.
Conservative treatment is usually the first choice of treatment and consists of:
- Reduction of the loads transmitted through the chondral injury. This goal could be accomplished simply by using crutches or reducing the level of activity.
- Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drags.
- Rehabilitaion regimen aiming at full range of motion, muscle strengthening and proprioception
- Disease-modifying medication such as chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine. The administration should becarried on for 3-6 months.Nevertheless, there is no proof that these drugs enhance the healing process.
- Finally, hyalouronic acid injections, growth factors from platelet rich plasma (PRP) and mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) could be used in order to enhance the healing process.
If these measures are not effective, one of the surgical techiques described in this chapter should be applied. Lastly, it should be kept in mind that predisposing factors such as joint instability and mechanical axis malalignment should be concomitantly corrected. Without addressing these factors, no treatment is effective.