Articular cartilage damage

The reason you're probably here

The surface of your knee joint is covered in articular cartilage. When you injure articular cartilage, you may experience pain or swelling. Articular cartilage cannot heal on its own, and generally only gets worse over time unless treated. Damage to articular cartilage can occur from trauma to the knee or while playing sports, exercising, working or simply performing everyday activities.

Chronic knee pain is common. In addition to pain, symptoms such as swelling, clicking, locking and catching can limit even simple tasks such as climbing stairs. The source of these problems may indicate a knee cartilage injury.


Articular cartilage does not have the ability to heal on its own.

Normally, blood vessels bring nutrients and cells to help heal an injured area. Cartilage doesn’t have blood vessels, so it can’t heal itself.

Damaged articular cartilage can irritate the joint, which may become inflamed and painful. When the injury is large enough, the cartilage no longer protects the bone underneath it—the pain increases, and if the injury is not treated it may get worse.

That’s why it’s important to see your doctor for evaluation.

See the table below for a closer look at the differences between small, medium, and large articular cartilage lesions.

(** Interactive Tool **)

Contributing conditions –or– Yes, it can get worse.

Sometimes there are contributing conditions present in patients with knee cartilage injuries that can cause or even worsen the damage.

Valgus deformity, also known as being “knock-kneed,” places undue stress on the knee joint and is more common in women.

Varus deformity, also known as being “bow-legged,” causes increased stress on the knee and is more common in men.

Meniscus tears from overuse or trauma can cause damage to articular cartilage from the lack of cushioning and protection within the joint.

Ligament tears, such as tears of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), are the most common injury of the knee and may cause instability of the joint or the sensation that the knee is “giving out.” This instability can cause an articular cartilage injury.