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What Is Cartilage Loss?


Updated April 28, 2014

Question: What Is Cartilage Loss?
Joint or articular cartilage is the type of cartilage most familiar to arthritis patients. This type of cartilage is also found in the nasal septum and trachea (windpipe). In osteoarthritis, cartilage loss is a significant factor that contributes to disease progression. What is cartilage loss? What predicts rapid cartilage loss?

Why Do You Need Cartilage?

Articular cartilage serves as the cushion within the joint and as a shock absorber. When cartilage is damaged or worn away, the affected joint becomes painful, stiff, and limited in its range of motion.

What Happens With Cartilage Loss?

Cartilage loss is defined by a decrease in cartilage volume and thickness. It occurs after cartilage wears away or deteriorates. With the cartilage loss of severe osteoarthritis, the joint space narrows and bone rubs on bone after cartilage loss occurs (sometimes referred to as bone-on-bone).

What Factors Predict Cartilage Loss in the Knee?

Researchers have analyzed cartilage loss in the knee joint and found that three factors predict it -- medial meniscal damage, lateral meniscal damage, and varus malalignment (bow-legged) of the knee joint.

Another study concurred, revealing that top risk factors that contribute to rapid cartilage loss include cartilage damage, meniscus tears, other injury to the meniscus, and severe lesions observable on MRI. Synovitis and joint effusion also were predictors of cartilage loss. Interestingly, excess weight was a significant factor as well. For every 1-unit increase in body mass index (BMI), the risk of rapid cartilage loss increased by 11%.


Relationship of Meniscal Damage, Meniscal Extrusion, Malalignment, and Joint Laxity to Subsequent Cartilage Loss in Osteoarthritis Knees. Leena Sharma et al. Arthritis & Rheumatism, June 2008.

Obesity Contributes to Rapid Cartilage Loss. EurekAlert. July 14, 2009.

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