It is common for an active person to want to delay surgery for an injury in order to play sports or exercise. Is there a risk, though, of doing more damage? In this Ask Dr. Geier video, I answer that question for one of the most common injuries throughout the body – articular cartilage damage.

Maureen in Stony Point, New York asks:
Hello Dr. Geier:
My son is 16 years old and had been recently diagnosed with an injury to his articular cartilage in his right knee. He plays soccer and basketball for his high school. It’s been recommended that he has surgery to repair it if he wants to continue to play sports. He does not have any pain, but he just refers to the feeling in his knee as “weird.” He has rested it for more than six weeks. Of course, now feels great, but the doctor recommends he has surgery. Is there any sense in just trying physical therapy and continue to play as long as he has no pain? Of course I only want to do what’s best for my son. Thank you for any help and advice you can give him. Your information on your blog is very informative and helpful.

The articular cartilage is the cartilage lining the ends of the bones within a joint. It helps the joint move smoothly. The articular cartilage serves as a shock absorber. If that cartilage breaks down, you can have pain, swelling and catching sensations. If the cartilage continues to break down within a joint like the knee, osteoarthritis can develop.

Cartilage damage in the knee
Note the frayed articular cartilage on the end of the femur (red arrow). This is the appearance of cartilage in more advanced arthritis.

Cartilage injuries are tricky because it is difficult for orthopedic surgeons to make cartilage new again. If there is a loose area of cartilage, there are options to smooth it out. If there is an area of missing cartilage with exposed bone, there are options to fill that defect.

In this video, I discuss the various surgical options for damage to the articular cartilage of the knee. I also discuss the idea of whether an athlete can do more damage by continuing to play sports without surgery.

Also read:
Ask Dr. Geier: Will cartilage damage limit knee motion?
Ask Dr. Geier – Should I go to the doctor after a knee injury?

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