Knee Cartilage, Diagnosis, Modern Imaging and Treatments- A comprehensive guide for

Published at: 26/12/2023

Knee Cartilage, Diagnosis, Modern Imaging and Treatments- A comprehensive guide for

Knee cartilage is a vital component of joint health, crucial for movement and weight-bearing activities. Understanding its structure, pathologies, and treatment options is essential for effective management of knee-related issues.

Understanding the Knee Joint:

The knee joint comprises the femur (thighbone), tibia (shinbone), and patella (kneecap). These bones are lined with articular cartilage, which acts as a shock absorber during movement. Another type of cartilage, the meniscus, is found in the knee, providing additional cushioning.

Nature of Cartilage Injuries:

Unlike muscle and bone, cartilage lacks a direct blood supply, limiting its natural healing capacity. Damage to articular cartilage can manifest as pain, inflammation, a clicking noise, a catching sensation, and reduced range of motion. Injuries exceeding a centimeter in size may worsen over time, potentially leading to osteoarthritis.

Common Causes:

Knee cartilage injuries often result from repetitive actions, such as stairs, traumatic events, or intense physical activities. They can also occur alongside other knee injuries like meniscus tears and ligament damage.

Diagnosing Knee Cartilage Injuries


Symptoms and Physical Examination:

Pain, swelling, reduced motion, and sensations like clicking or locking are typical symptoms of cartilage damage. A physical examination assesses tenderness, pain, and knee motion range.

MRI is the Gold standard for detecting cartilage problem

X-ray or CT scan are only helpful in very severe stage or for pre-op planning

Advanced Imaging Techniques in Cartilage Diagnosis

MRI - The Cornerstone of Diagnosis:

MRI is a noninvasive tool critical for visualizing knee joint structures and assessing cartilage defects. It provides detailed images of the knee's soft tissues, including the cartilage.

Advanced MRI Techniques:

Innovations like T2 mapping, dGEMRIC, T1ρ imaging, sodium imaging, and diffusion-weighted imaging offer deeper insights into the knee cartilage's collagen network and proteoglycan content. These techniques are instrumental in evaluating the composition and integrity of knee cartilage, aiding in the diagnosis and assessment of cartilage-related pathologies (Crema et al., 2011; Ding et al., 2005).

Ultra-High-Field MRI:

Recent developments in ultra-high-field MRI present new methods for indirectly assessing the integrity and structural changes of articular cartilage (Kohl et al., 2015).

Treatment Approaches for Knee Cartilage Pathologies

Conservative Management and Physiotherapy:

Initial management often involves conservative methods and physiotherapy, focusing on pain reduction and improving knee movement and strength. It is controversial, as the damage cartilage might or might not repair oe heal itself.

Injection Therapy:

Regenerative Medicine and Emerging Treatments: Emerging therapies like cell and growth fractor treatments show promise in regenerating damaged cartilage. These innovative approaches are reshaping the treatment landscape for knee cartilage injuries. 

  • mFAT, lipogems, uFat, NFat
  • PRF, Arthrozheal 
  • n-Stride, Cellamartix, Gold
  • Medicinal Signaling Cells 
  • BMAC
  • Exsosome
  • Arthrosamid, iPAAG, Hydrogel

Please check here to find out more about injection therapy for cartigle 

Surgical Interventions:

In the realm of orthopaedic surgery, various advanced techniques have been developed to address the complexities of cartilage repair in the knee. These interventions range from minimally invasive procedures to more complex surgical techniques, each tailored to address specific types of cartilage damage and to cater to individual patient needs. This section delves into an array of surgical interventions, discussing their methodologies, applications, and the nuances that make each technique unique in its approach to restoring knee function and alleviating pain. From the debated microfracture technique to innovative procedures like Liquid Cartilage Therapy and Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI), these interventions represent the cutting edge of cartilage repair and regeneration. We also explore Matrix-Induced Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (MACI), Autologous Matrix-Induced Chondrogenesis (AMIC), Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation (OAT), and other advanced techniques that signify remarkable progress in orthopaedic surgery. Each method brings its strengths and considerations, contributing to a comprehensive approach to treating cartilage lesions in the knee.

Microfracture: a technique used for cartilage repair, has been subject to debate due to its limitations and potential adverse outcomes. The limitations of microfracture include the potential for subchondral bone overgrowth, the formation of fibrocartilage instead of hyaline cartilage, and the lack of long-term durability. These factors raise concerns about the efficacy and long-term outcomes of microfracture as a sole treatment for cartilage defects. (Green et al., 2016) (Mohan et al., 2015) (Kim et al., 2015).

Liquid Cartilage Therapy: Liquid Cartilage Therapy, a novel, minimally invasive treatment, involves injecting a collagen-based solution into the damaged joint to stimulate natural cartilage regeneration.

Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI): ACI is a well-established surgical technique for treating isolated cartilage lesions, involving the implantation of autologous chondrocytes. This process promotes the formation of hyaline-like cartilage, aiming to restore the cartilage's integrity (Gille et al., 2010).

Matrix-Induced Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (MACI): MACI is particularly effective for chondral defects in the patellofemoral joint. Research has demonstrated that MACI offers a more efficacious alternative to microfracture, with a similar safety profile for treating symptomatic articular cartilage defects of the knee (Kim, J., Heo, J., & Lee, D., 2020).

Characterized Chondrocyte Implantation (CCI) and MACI: The evolution of techniques such as CCI and MACI reflects significant advancements in cartilage repair, providing a range of options for managing knee cartilage lesions (Frank et al., 2018).

Autologous Matrix-Induced Chondrogenesis (AMIC): Gille et al. (2010) and subsequent studies (Kim et al., 2020; Volz et al., 2017) have shown that AMIC, which combines the microfracture technique with a collagen scaffold, is effective in reconstructing damaged cartilage surfaces and has long-term efficacy.

Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation (OAT): OAT is a technique where healthy hyaline cartilage is transplanted from a non-weight-bearing region of the knee to a damaged area. It has shown success in managing chondral or osteochondral defects of the patella (Redondo et al., 2018).

Mega-OATS: Though less common, Mega-OATS is used for large osteochondral defects at the weight-bearing region of the femoral condyles, especially in young individuals (Jungmann et al., 2015).

Hyalofast with Microfracture: Hyalofast grafting, combined with microfracture, presents a minimally invasive treatment for joint cartilage defects. This method offers a new approach for biological resurfacing of grade IV articular cartilage ulcers in the knee joint (Tan et al., 2020).

Osteochondral Plug Allograft Transplantation: This surgical approach repairs cartilage and underlying bone defects in the knee. It has demonstrated efficacy in addressing cartilage lesions (Bowland et al., 2018).

Silk-Fibroin-Gelatin Scaffolds for Cartilage Repair: Shi et al. (2017) demonstrated the effectiveness of these scaffolds in providing a suitable microenvironment for mesenchymal stem cell proliferation and cartilage repair.

The Role of Gait Mechanics and Deep Learning: Gait mechanics significantly influence cartilage morphology and the development of osteoarthritis (Andriacchi et al., 2009). Additionally, deep learning models based on MRI are being explored for automated detection of knee joint motion injuries (Mei et al., 2022).


MRI plays a pivotal role in diagnosing and assessing knee cartilage pathologies, with advanced techniques providing comprehensive evaluations. These diagnostic advancements, combined with emerging treatments, offer promising avenues for managing knee cartilage injuries and enhancing patient outcomes.


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