Cartilage is an important part of the skeletal system that can be affected by several diseases. For example, a group of diseases called the chondrodystrophies are typically characterized by changes and abnormalities in the growth and subsequent ossification of cartilage.
Some cartilage diseases and disorders include:
Injury to the articular cartilage
Articular cartilage is the cartilage found inside joints. Due to a lack of active blood supply within this cartilage, repair is often slow and delayed. In knee injuries, the articular cartilage may sometimes rupture.
Osteoarthritis describes a condition where the cartilage covering the bones in joints is thinned and sometimes completely worn out. This leads to exposure of the bone ends to friction and erosion which causes bone damage.
The bones moving against each other without the protective cartilage can also cause restricted movement and intense pain.
Replacement of the affected joint through arthroplasty is sometimes the only way to treat the condition and prevent it from progressing. Arthroplasty involves replacing the joint with a synthetic one that is often made from a stainless steel alloy and high molecular weight polyethylene.
The polysaccharide portion of proteoglycan, chondroitin sulphate, can also be used to reduce the symptoms of osteoarthritis and increase synthesis of the extracellular matrix.
Costochondritis describes inflammation of the cartilage in the ribs which leads to severe chest pain. This is a relatively common condition.
Herniation or prolapse of an intervertebral disc sometimes occurs when the cartilaginous disc that lies between two vertebrae ruptures and the soft central portion inside bulges out and presses against soft tissue and nerves. This can cause intense pain.
Achondroplasia is a condition where the chondrocytes within the cartilage fail to proliferate and the epiphyseal plate of long bones near the joints are particularly affected. These plates are important in bone growth and development and the condition can cause dwarfism.
Relapsing polychondritis is a rare disorder characterized by inflamed and deteriorating cartilage, particularly in the ears, nose, throat, heart valves, joints, rib cage and sinuses.
Benign or non-cancerous tumors
Benign or non-cancerous tumors of the cartilages are called chondroma.
Malignant or cancerous tumors
Malignant or cancerous tumors of the cartilage are called chondrosarcoma.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc