Cartilage is a tough, flexible connective tissue found in many areas of the body, including the joints where it reduces friction and promotes a normal range of motion. Although it's not as hard as bone, it's much tougher than soft tissues. Cartilage does not contain blood vessels, especially when it becomes damaged, healing is much slower compared to other tissues. Cartilage can become damaged as a result of traumatic injury, from repetitive or overuse of a joint, or from wear and tear related to aging. Some diseases like arthritis cause cartilage inside the joints to break down more quickly. Cartilage in the knee is especially prone to damage as a result of ongoing weight-bearing activities and wear and tear. When this cartilage becomes badly damaged, a cartilage transplant can be used to replace the damaged tissue and, ideally, avoid the need for knee replacement surgery.
Most cartilage transplant procedures can be performed arthroscopically using minimally-invasive techniques and small incisions. Arthroscopic surgery uses a special instrument called an arthroscope equipped with a tiny camera that takes pictures inside the joint and sends the images back to a large screen for viewing throughout the procedure. Minimally invasive approaches are associated with less tissue damage and faster healing. Some transplant surgeries require larger incisions to gain greater access to the surgical site. Once the cartilage has been properly positioned, sutures are used to keep it in place.
Cartilage transplants can be a good choice for many patients, but they're not ideal in every case. Generally, cartilage transplants are better options for patients who are:
Patients with joint instability, those who are obese and those who have had cancer treatment in the affected limb typically are not good candidates.
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