Cartilage Damage vs. Arthritis: How to Tell the Difference

Cartilage Damage vs. Arthritis: How to Tell the Difference

Your joints are more than the meeting place of two bones — they’re complex machines that involve multiple types of connective tissues, as well as blood vessels and nerves. When you experience joint pain, it can be as simple as a case of overuse or as serious as a fracture or severely ruptured ligament.

Oftentimes, the pain stems from either damaged cartilage or arthritis, and discerning the difference can be tricky. Fortunately, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. 

Here at NEIL GHODADRA, M.D., in Thousand Oaks and West Los Angeles, California, we offer expert care for all kinds of joint pain. In fact, Dr. Ghodadra is specially trained in cartilage restoration and joint preservation, which came in handy when he served as the team physician for the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago White Sox. 

Here, Dr. Ghodadra takes a closer look at two common joint problems, damaged cartilage and arthritis, to help you understand which one may be causing your pain. 

Cartilage 101

You have various types of cartilage throughout your body. For example, your nose and ears contain elastic cartilage that gives them shape and structure.

Your joints contain two types of cartilage: hyaline and fibrocartilage. Hyaline cartilage is slick and glassy. This is the type that lines the ends of your bones where they meet inside your joints. Hyaline cartilage is often called articular cartilage because it enables your bones to articulate, or move.

Fibrocartilage is the strongest of the three. It contains layers of dense collagen fibers and creates a transition between hyaline cartilage and your ligaments and tendons.

Using your knee joint as an example, articular cartilage lines the top of your shinbone, the bottom of your thigh bone, and backside of your kneecap. You also have a thick piece of fibrocartilage called the meniscus that absorbs shock between your bones. Menisci aren’t attached to anything; they’re free floating in your knee joint. 

How to spot cartilage damage 

Although cartilage is fairly strong, it’s not invincible. You can damage your cartilage in an auto accident, bad fall, or sports injury. You can also wear down your cartilage from years of use, and certain diseases can damage your cartilage, as well.

Cartilage damage is usually called a tear, and it can occur in both hyaline and fibrocartilage. Articular cartilage damage can be a crack or fissure that causes the cartilage to separate, or a portion of the cartilage can lift up and form a flap. In both cases, the symptoms include:

A torn meniscus can happen if you forcefully twist your knee, which is why it’s a common sports injury. The symptoms are similar to those associated with torn articular cartilage. 

Cartilage has no nerves and very little blood supply, which means two things: The pain you feel is caused by bones rubbing together, not the tear itself; and healing can be difficult and lengthy. 

Arthritis 101

Arthritis isn’t a single condition, it’s an umbrella term for more than 100 types of joint diseases. Although each type has unique characteristics, nearly all of them include inflammation, pain, and stiffness. 

Every joint in your body is susceptible to arthritis, including your toes (gout) and your spine (ankylosing spondylitis). Arthritis can stem from an autoimmune disorder (rheumatoid arthritis) or other chronic condition, such as psoriasis (psoriatic arthritis).

The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA), fits into both of the categories we’re discussing here — arthritis and cartilage damage. Also known as the “wear-and-tear” arthritis, OA develops when the cartilage in your joints deteriorates after years of repetitive use and stress. 

How to spot arthritis

More than 50 million Americans have one of the 100+ types of arthritis. Their symptoms vary greatly, but they all have a few in common, including:

Genetics, obesity, advancing age, and smoking are the main risk factors for arthritis. 

Treating cartilage damage and arthritis

Once Dr. Ghodadra diagnoses the underlying cause of your joint pain, he develops a treatment plan to address your symptoms. 

For arthritis, he may recommend physical therapy, modified activity, lifestyle changes, weight loss, and over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. 

For cartilage damage, he may recommend lubricating joint injections, immobilization, and physical therapy.

In both conditions, when these conservative measures don’t work, Dr. Ghodadra may offer next-level treatment solutions, such as platelet-rich plasma therapy or bone marrow aspirate concentrate — two cutting-edge forms of regenerative medicine.

To discover what’s causing your joint pain and find out the best way to treat it, schedule an appointment at NEIL GHODADRA, M.D., by calling us at either location or booking online today. 

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