Articular cartilage defect is a common knee injury. Cartilage is frequently injured, often resulting from sports related trauma or overuse. The articular cartilage has a limiting capacity to heal itself naturally, due to the anatomy of the knee. Articular cartilage damage can worsen over time if not properly managed. When the cartilage defect is localized to one specific area within the joint, then it is referred to as a focal articular cartilage defect. Innovative treatments exist for focal articular cartilage defects.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of focal articular cartilage defect include: pain, throbbing, swelling, tenderness, and limited mobility. In some cases, cartilage can become loose and float in the knee joint, causing patients to have catching or locking in the knee.

If your physician decides that cartilage damage is the proper diagnosis, then a thorough history will be gathered, along with a physical examination and x-rays to check to for any fractures or other damage. If a focal articular cartilage defect is suspected, an MRI will be needed to asses the size, location, and extent of the damage. By using an MRI, the cartilage and surrounding soft tissue can be identified and assessed for proper treatment.


Your physician will recommend treatment based on the severity of the diagnosis. For symptomatic focal cartilage articular defects, surgery may be beneficial and holds great promise. There are many articular cartilage repair and restoration procedures that may help symptoms including debridement, microfracture, cartilage transplantation, and osteochondral autograft, or allograft. Typically, your physician will treat focal defects using an arthroscopic approach, but complex or large defects may require open surgery.