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Cartilage Transplantation

What is Cartilage Transplantation?

Cartilage transplantation is a procedure to restore articular cartilage in a joint by transplanting it from another region of your body or using cartilage from a donor.

What is Articular Cartilage?

Articular cartilage is the white tissue lining the ends of bones that form joints. It acts as cushioning material and helps in the smooth gliding of bones during movement.

How is Articular Cartilage Lost?

An injury to the joint may damage articular cartilage, which cannot repair on its own. Cartilage can be damaged with increasing age, normal wear and tear, overuse or trauma. Damaged cartilage cannot cushion the joints during movement and the bones may rub against each other causing severe pain and inflammation.

Indications for Cartilage Transplantation

Cartilage transplantation is indicated for cases of mild-to-moderate cartilage loss where joint replacement is not recommended. Ideally, you should be

  • Under the age of 45
  • Should not be obese
  • Should not have conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or severe osteoarthritis that complicate joint health

Procedure for Cartilage Transplantation

Small incisions called portals are made around the joint. A viewing scope and surgical instruments are inserted into the portals. Saline solution is used to expand the joint and improve visualization. The images from the scope are sent to a video monitor where your surgeon can view the inside of your joint.

Specialized surgical instruments are used to remove the damaged cartilage. The area is then prepared to receive the cartilage transplant.

Types of Cartilage Transplantation

There are various techniques used to transplant cartilage. Based on the size of your defect and other factors, your doctor will recommend the appropriate procedure for you. Some of the procedures include:

Osteochondral autograft transplantation
Cartilage with underlying bone is transplanted from a stress-free region of the joint to the deficient (load-bearing) area. This procedure is indicated for small areas of cartilage deficiency.

Osteochondral allograft transplantation
Donor cartilage is shaped and fit into a cartilage-deficient area, creating a smooth surface. This procedure is indicated for medium-to-large areas of cartilage deficiency.

Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation
Cartilage is harvested from the joint and cultured in a laboratory. A second surgery is performed to implant the cartilage tissue into the joint. This procedure is indicated for medium-to-large areas of cartilage deficiency.

Meniscus transplantation
This procedure is usually performed in the knee for areas of meniscal deficiency. A donated meniscus is size-matched and sewn into place. Meniscal transplantation is usually indicated where there is pain following previous meniscus removal.

Brian J. Cole, M.D., M.B.A.

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