Articular cartilage. Anatomy, injury, and repair.Clin Podiatr Med Surg. 2001 Jan; 18(1):35-53.CP
Articular cartilage plays a vital role in joint morphology. An understanding of articular cartilage anatomy and physiology will enable the physician to more fully appreciate its function and necessity. Articular cartilage is made up of four basic biological layers or zones. Each zone possesses attributes necessary to make articular cartilage as a whole strong, durable, and more able to withstand shear and axial forces through a joint. Cartilage metabolism is relatively slow in comparison with other tissues; hence, it is much more difficult for defects in cartilage to heal spontaneously. There are many ways in which articular cartilage can incur damage. Mechanical injury, be it acute or insidious, causes cartilage to fissure and fracture. This results in painful and inflamed joints along with disruption of the cartilage. Metabolic diseases also can produce joint destruction, inflammation, and pain. The resultant defects fail to heal spontaneously because of slow metabolism of cartilage. These chondral defects eventually may penetrate subchondral bone. Disruption of the layers of cartilage eventually will cause collapse and loss of integrity of the entire joint apparatus as a whole. More than 250 years ago, Hunter stated, "Ulcerated cartilage is a troublesome thing--once [it is] destroyed it is not repaired." Articular cartilage defects are very difficult to repair effectively. Cartilage defects can heal spontaneously, if the defect extends to subchondral bone. The reparative substance, fibrocartilage, is less durable and much less smooth. There are many techniques and procedures in which chondral or osteochondral defects can be filled. Promoting subchondral bleeding is the method most commonly used clinically. This allows pleuripotent cells to fill the defect with eventual fibrocartilage. Implants are gaining favor as a method of inducing a more pure, hyaline-like cartilage into cartilage defects. Gene therapy and tissue engineering are at the forefront of cartilage research today. Cartilage injury and repair remains today a very difficult topic of study. Understanding the anatomy of articular cartilage, the pathomechanics of injury, and methods available for cartilage repair, will help the physician more adequately approach treatment options.