How are Cartilage Injuries Diagnosed?

What is a Cartilage Injury?

To diagnose a cartilage injury, your doctor will take your medical history and examine your joint for swelling and other symptoms, such as limited range of motion. It can be challenging to tell the difference between cartilage injury and damage to a ligament or tendon (a sprain or strain).

These tests can help in making an accurate diagnosis of cartilage injuries:

  • X-ray - Shows bone and may identify conditions other than cartilage damage that cause similar symptoms
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - Shows soft tissues and can reveal the size and severity of a cartilage injury, whether any pieces of cartilage are loose, and whether there is damage to ligaments and other structures
  • Arthroscopy - Takes images by inserting a slender tube fitted with a tiny video camera into the joint; arthroscopy is also used to do the surgery through small incisions

How are Cartilage Injuries Treated?


Minor cartilage injuries often improve with non-surgical treatments to reduce pain and swelling and strengthen muscles that support the joint. However, cartilage does not heal itself easily. Severe cartilage injuries and tears may require surgery.

Nonsurgical treatments

  • Rest prevents further damage and reduces pain and inflammation; for a knee injury, your doctor may advise using crutches to keep weight off the joint
  • Ice applied for 15 minutes, several times a day, reduces pain and inflammation
  • Elevating the affected joint can reduce inflammation
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can help relieve pain
  • Braces designed for specific joints provide support and reduce further strain on cartilage injuries
  • Cortisone injections can reduce inflammation and pain
  • Hyaluronic acid injections, also called synthetic joint fluid, help lubricate a joint and reduce inflammation
  • Platelet-rich plasma injection is a technique that separates platelets from a sample of your own blood and injects them into damaged cartilage. This protects the cartilage from further injury and helps reduce inflammation.
  • Physical therapy can help strengthen and stretch muscles around a joint and restore or maintain range of motion

Surgical Treatments

  • Debridement is the removal of loose cartilage and other tissue fragments from a joint, either with arthroscopy (small cuts) or open surgery (large incision)
  • Marrow stimulation (microfracture) is a procedure that stimulates new cartilage to form by drilling tiny holes into the underlying bone and blood supply, most commonly performed for ankle and knee cartilage injuries
  • Mosaicplasty (osteochondral autograft) is taking a plug of healthy cartilage and bone from a non-weight-bearing part of a joint and transplanting it to the area with injured cartilage
  • Autologous chondrocyte implantation is a procedure in which your healthy cartilage cells are extracted, grown in the laboratory, and then implanted to fill in the place where cartilage is worn away or torn
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Trust NewYork-Presbyterian to Care for your Cartilage Injury

Schedule an appointment with our orthopedic specialists to understand your cartilage injury symptoms , what causes cartilage injury, and receive individualized care. NewYork-Presbyterian provides advanced care for a range of orthopedic injuries, diseases, and disorders.