As osteoarthritis continues to afflict more and more Americans, sufferers turn to different treatments to ease the pain and regain mobility. Although knee replacement surgery is considered the most effective and long-lasting treatment to knee pain, an advanced procedure is being pursued by some younger patients: knee cartilage transplantation.
Osteoarthritis causes the deterioration of the cartilage in the knee. The cartilage serves as a load bearing zone and allows for flexion of the joint. Unfortunately, cartilage has poor regenerative qualities and, once afflicted by osteoarthritis, can degenerate quickly. Once osteoarthritis has progressed to an advanced stage, simple tasks such as walking can prove very painful or even impossible.
In performing a cartilage transplant, doctors first must perform a biopsy. In this minor surgery, surgeons take a sample of knee cartilage from the non-essential area — that is, the zone that does not bear weight. The biopsy is then taken to a lab, where it is cultured and grown into millions of cartilage cells.
The cultured cells are then used to replace the damaged knee cartilage, in a more-invasive surgical procedure. Once the undeveloped cartilage cells have been re-inserted, a period of about three months is necessary for them to continue the healing process and replace the damaged area of the knee.
Younger patients are more suited for cartilage transplants than older ones. Some doctors recommend that the operation only be pursued by patients in their 20s, 30s, and early 40s, while older patients should consider either partial or total knee replacement surgery.