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Cartilage Transplantation

What is Cartilage Transplantation?

If non-invasive techniques prove ineffective in the treatment of cartilage injuries, transplantation may be recommended in order to eliminate pain and restore optimal joint function. Cartilage is central to healthy joint function, as it acts as both a shock-absorber and a friction-reducing cushion.

When cartilage becomes damaged, either as a result of traumatic injury or wear-and-tear, common symptoms for orthopedic attention include:

  • Pain and discomfort
  • Swelling
  • 'Locking' and/or 'popping' of the joint
  • Limited range of motion

While symptoms may appear mild or passive at onset, progression of both severity and frequency will likely occur over time.

Identifying Cartilage Damage

The approach to diagnosing cartilage damage will vary according to injury location and type. For example, an injured meniscus (located in the central knee) is often identified by inhibited leg flexation, swelling, and a 'popping' sound. On the other hand, degeneration of hyaline cartilage (which is the main component of all joint surfaces) is characterized by more general pain and a loss of joint strength.

While the team at Saint Alphonsus Medical Group – Riverside Orthopedics will likely begin any assessment with the documentation of a symptom history and basic motion tests, more in-depth exams (such as an x-ray or MRI) will often be employed to verify the extent of damage present.

In the case of traumatic injury, cartilage damage often accompanies other conditions for orthopedic attention and care. Whenever possible, the correction of all damage types will be attempted during the course of a single surgical procedure.

Types of Transplantation

There are two main types of cartilage transplantation: Allograft and Autograft. While an allograft procedure involves the acquisition of healthy tissue from a human donor (cadaver), an autograft operation entails transferring cartilage from one area of the patient's joint to another.

During allograft transplantation, one of the primary concerns for surgical attention is attaining an appropriately sized graft for use. As the tissue is acquired from a donor and frozen for later use, the initial sample will not be specifically sized to a given candidate and will require a more complicated matching process prior to surgery. All grafts are tested for viruses (such as HIV/AIDS, West Nile, and hepatitis), bacteria, and overall health, a process overseen by the American Association of Tissue Banks and the FDA.

As autograft transplantion involves the procurement of tissue directly from the patient, pre-op sizing is not an issue of concern. However, during the surgery, special precaution will be taken to acquire the graft from non-weightbearing bone, in order to avoid the weakening of a healthy bone structure. The tissue will be taken as a cylindrical plug and applied to the damaged surface area, allowing for the creation of a smooth cartilage surface.

Post-Op Recovery

Following a cartilage transplant operation, it is imperitative that the corrected joint surface be protected from any stress as the new bone heals. Depending on the surgical location, bracing, crutches, or other support efforts may be employed (often for 4-6 weeks after the transplant). In addition, the team at Saint Alphonsus Medical Group – Riverside Orthopedics will likely prescribe a regimen of pain and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as motion excercises and physical therapy. It may take several months to rebuild joint strength, and the care team will advise as to when various activities may be resumed.

Cartilage Transplantation in Fruitland, ID

Drs. Davis and Foote are both fellowship trained in the treatment of joint damage, including meniscal tears and like cartilage injuries. To schedule an appointment, contact their Fruitland, ID office at (208) 452-8100.