Should you have surgery for a small area of cartilage damage?

Articular cartilage damage can be a tricky problem, as we don’t have easy ways to make them better. In this Ask Dr. Geier video, I answer the question of a reader who wants to know what surgical options exist.

Matt in Los Angeles asks:

I got my MRI back and the findings are as follows: Approximately 4X5 mm focal full-thickness cartilage defect in posterolateral tibial plateau with underlying subchondral marrow edema. Is this a big defect? Would you operate on it? My options for cartilage surgery all seem very daunting with significant rehab time of 4-6 months. I’ve laid off it for 6 weeks and no exercise with zero relief. I’m 38, male, live an active life, and I’m in good shape.

The articular cartilage is the cartilage lining on the ends of the bones – the white stuff on the end of a chicken bone, so to speak. It acts as a shock absorber and helps with a joint’s smooth range of motion. When articular cartilage starts to break down, that turns into arthritis.

We have no ways currently to make cartilage new again once it starts to break down. As orthopedic surgeons, we usually try nonsurgical options to help patients overcome pain first. If they are not improving, we might try different types of injections into the knee. Occasionally, surgery can be an option.

Man with knee pain from cartilage damage

In this video, I discuss surgical and nonsurgical treatment options for cartilage damage within the knee.

Also read:
Will cartilage damage limit knee motion?
Common questions about arthritis and articular cartilage damage

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