Knee Cartilage Injuries

Knee cartilage injuries are a common concern, particularly among athletes and people with an active lifestyle. The cartilage in the knee plays an important role in facilitating smooth movement and providing cushioning between the bones. Damage to this cartilage can lead to pain, swelling, and impaired function, significantly impacting a person’s quality of life.

Are your symptoms affecting your quality of life? Consult our knee cartilage specialist today for an accurate diagnosis & personalised treatment plan.

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Dr Dennis Ng Zhaowen
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Types of Knee Cartilage Injuries

Understanding the different types of knee cartilage injuries is important for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment planning. The primary types of knee cartilage injuries include:

Articular Cartilage Injuries

Articular cartilage covers the ends of the bones in the knee joint, enabling smooth and frictionless movement. Injuries to the articular cartilage can result from acute trauma, such as a fall or a direct blow, or from repetitive stress over time. These injuries may range from small areas of damage to more significant cartilage loss, which can lead to substantial pain and reduced mobility.

Meniscal Tears

The menisci are two C-shaped pieces of cartilage located between the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shin bone). They act as shock absorbers and provide stability to the knee joint. Meniscal tears are common in sports activities that involve twisting, turning, or sudden stops. These tears can be partial or complete and are often accompanied by symptoms such as pain, swelling, and a catching or locking sensation in the knee.

Osteochondral Injuries

Osteochondral injuries involve damage to both the cartilage and the underlying bone. These injuries can occur due to a single traumatic event or repetitive microtrauma. They are often seen in younger athletes and can lead to the formation of loose bodies within the joint, causing pain and mechanical symptoms.

Chondromalacia Patellae

Chondromalacia patellae, also known as runner’s knee, refers to the softening and degeneration of the cartilage on the underside of the patella (kneecap). This condition is commonly seen in young athletes and people who engage in activities that place excessive stress on the knee joint, such as running or jumping. Symptoms include anterior knee pain, swelling, and a grinding sensation during knee movements.

Symptoms of Knee Cartilage Injuries

Recognising the symptoms of knee cartilage injuries is important for early diagnosis and effective treatment.

  • Pain
    Pain is a common symptom of knee cartilage injuries. The pain can range from a dull ache to sharp, intense discomfort, often exacerbated by weight-bearing activities, such as walking, running, or climbing stairs. Pain may be localised to a specific area or felt throughout the knee joint.
  • Swelling
    Swelling in the knee is another common symptom. This can occur immediately after an injury or develop gradually over time. Swelling may be accompanied by warmth and redness around the affected area.
  • Stiffness and Reduced Range of Motion
    Individuals with knee cartilage injuries often experience stiffness and a decreased range of motion. This can make it challenging to fully bend or straighten the knee, impacting daily activities and mobility.
  • Locking or Catching Sensation
    A locking or catching sensation in the knee is a notable symptom, particularly with meniscal tears or loose bodies within the joint. This can cause the knee to feel unstable or give way during movement.
  • Grinding or Popping Sensations
    Grinding or popping sensations, also known as crepitus, can occur with knee cartilage injuries, especially with chondromalacia patellae. These sensations are often felt during knee movements and may be accompanied by pain.
  • Joint Instability
    Joint instability is a symptom associated with severe cartilage injuries. The knee may feel unstable or prone to giving way, particularly during activities that place stress on the joint.

Causes of Knee Cartilage Injuries

Knee cartilage injuries can stem from acute trauma or degenerative conditions. Knowing these causes helps prevent and manage injuries. Primary causes include:

  • Acute Trauma - Acute trauma is a common cause of knee cartilage injuries. This can occur due to high-impact sports and activities that involve sudden changes in direction, jumping, or collisions, such as football and basketball, which can lead to cartilage damage.
  • Repetitive Stress - Repetitive stress on the knee joint, often seen in athletes and people with physically demanding jobs, can lead to cartilage degeneration over time. Activities that involve frequent knee bending, heavy lifting, or long-distance running can contribute to this type of injury.
  • Degenerative Conditions - Degenerative conditions, such as osteoarthritis, are significant contributors to knee cartilage injuries. Osteoarthritis is a wear-and-tear condition that gradually breaks down the cartilage in the knee, leading to pain and decreased joint function. Other degenerative conditions that can affect knee cartilage include rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory joint diseases.
  • Previous Knee Injuries - Previous knee injuries, such as ligament tears or fractures, can predispose people to cartilage injuries. These past injuries can alter the biomechanics of the knee, making it more vulnerable to further damage.

Risk Factors for Developing Knee Cartilage Injuries

Certain people are more prone to knee cartilage injuries due to specific risk factors. Identifying and understanding these factors can aid in early detection and prevention. Those at higher risk include:

  • Athletes: Athletes, especially those involved in high-impact sports such as football and basketball, are at increased risk for knee cartilage injuries. The intense physical demands, rapid directional changes, and frequent collisions in these sports contribute to the likelihood of acute trauma and repetitive stress injuries.
  • People with Previous Knee Injuries: People who have experienced previous knee injuries, such as ligament tears, fractures, or meniscal damage, are at higher risk for future cartilage injuries. These past injuries can compromise the structural integrity and biomechanics of the knee, making it more vulnerable to further damage.
  • People with Degenerative Joint Conditions: People with degenerative joint conditions, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, are at increased risk for knee cartilage injuries. These conditions contribute to the gradual breakdown of cartilage and can lead to more frequent and severe injuries over time.

Diagnosis of Knee Cartilage Injuries

Accurate diagnosis of knee cartilage injuries is important for effective treatment and management. The diagnostic process involves a combination of clinical evaluation, imaging studies, and sometimes arthroscopic examination:

Clinical Evaluation

The diagnostic process begins with a thorough clinical evaluation by the orthopaedic specialist. This evaluation includes:

  • Medical History: The orthopaedic specialist will review the patient’s medical history, including any previous knee injuries, underlying conditions, and the nature of the current symptoms (e.g., onset, duration, and severity of pain, swelling, and functional limitations).
  • Physical Examination: A physical examination of the knee will be conducted to assess tenderness, swelling, range of motion, and stability. The orthopaedic specialist may also perform specific tests to identify signs of cartilage damage, such as the McMurray test for meniscal tears.
Imaging Studies

Imaging studies are important for visualising the extent and location of cartilage injuries. Common imaging techniques include:

  • X-rays: While X-rays are not typically used to visualise cartilage, they are useful in identifying bone abnormalities, fractures, and joint alignment issues that may accompany cartilage injuries.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI is commonly used to diagnose knee cartilage injuries. This imaging modality provides detailed images of the knee’s soft tissues, including cartilage, menisci, ligaments, and tendons. MRI can reveal the presence and extent of cartilage damage, such as tears, lesions, and degeneration.
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scans: In some cases, a CT scan may be used to provide detailed images of the knee joint’s bony structures and to assess the alignment and integrity of the joint.
Arthroscopic Examination

Arthroscopic examination is often considered a last resort after other imaging studies fail to provide sufficient information. This minimally invasive procedure allows the orthopaedic specialist to directly visualise and assess the inside of the knee joint. During arthroscopy, the surgeon can also perform treatments such as removing loose bodies, repairing torn cartilage, or smoothing damaged cartilage surfaces.

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Treatment Options for Knee Cartilage Injuries

Treatment options for knee cartilage injuries range from conservative non-surgical methods to surgical interventions, depending on the severity of the injury and the patient’s overall health and activity level.

Non-Surgical Treatments

Non-surgical treatments are often the first line of management for knee cartilage injuries, especially for less severe cases. These methods include:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Reducing or avoiding activities that exacerbate symptoms can help relieve pain and prevent further cartilage damage.
  • Physical Therapy: A structured physical therapy program can improve knee strength, flexibility, and stability. Specific exercises may target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calf muscles to support the knee joint.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help manage pain and reduce inflammation. In some cases, the orthopaedic specialist may prescribe stronger medications.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections can provide temporary relief from pain and inflammation. Hyaluronic acid injections may improve joint lubrication and reduce pain in patients with osteoarthritis.
  • Bracing and Orthotics: Knee braces or orthotic devices can provide additional support and stability to the knee joint, helping to alleviate symptoms and improve function.
  • APS Injection (Autologous Protein Solution): APS is an autologous (from your own body) therapy which is designed to treat joint pain associated with knee osteoarthritis. In laboratory testing, APS has been shown to protect cartilage cells. This protective quality may slow the progression of osteoarthritis as well.
Surgical Treatments

Surgical interventions may be required for more severe cartilage injuries or when non-surgical treatments fail to provide adequate relief. Surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopic Surgery: Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive procedure used to diagnose and treat various knee conditions. During arthroscopy, the surgeon can remove loose bodies, repair torn cartilage, or smooth damaged cartilage surfaces.
  • Microfracture Surgery: This technique involves creating small fractures in the underlying bone to stimulate the growth of new cartilage. It is often used for small areas of cartilage damage.
  • Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation (OAT): In this procedure, healthy cartilage and bone are taken from a non-weight-bearing area of the knee and transplanted into the damaged area.
  • Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI): ACI involves harvesting a small sample of the patient’s cartilage cells, cultivating them in a laboratory, and then implanting the newly grown cells into the damaged area.
  • Meniscus Surgery: Meniscus repair or meniscectomy (removal of the damaged meniscus) may be performed if the injury involves a meniscal tear.
  • Osteotomy: This surgical procedure involves cutting and reshaping the bones to relieve pressure on the damaged cartilage. It is often used in younger patients with knee misalignment.

When to See a Knee Cartilage Injury Specialist

It is recommended to seek medical attention if you experience persistent knee pain, swelling, or instability. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent further damage and improve outcomes. You should see a knee cartilage injury specialist if:

  • You have persistent knee pain that does not improve with rest and over-the-counter medications.
  • You experience significant swelling, locking, or catching in the knee.
  • You have difficulty bearing weight on the affected leg.
  • Your knee feels unstable or gives way during activities.
  • You have a history of knee injuries and are experiencing new or worsening symptoms.
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Our Patients' Feedback

Learn what our patients have to say about our treatments and services.

Jeremy Teo
Jeremy Teo
2024-05-16
I tore my left pec muscle after a bench press accident and had the fortune of getting help from Dr Dennis. He is a very caring and helpful individual that you can tell wants the best healing progress for you and actively follows up with you sincerely. I initially had a two month delay and misdiagnosis at Ktph and it caused my tendon to retract. Should have went to Dr Dennis from the start.. 5/5
Emily Loo
Emily Loo
2024-05-16
I felt that doctor Dennis is very experienced and he skilfully aligned my fractured toe after my accident so that I didn’t need to do a minor surgery. He was friendly and professional and I felt his fees were reasonable without additional overselling of tests, supplements etc. that I have experienced elsewhere. Overall it was a smooth and effective experience and I would highly recommend doctor Dennis.
Ming W
Ming W
2024-04-20
Wonderful experience with Dr. Dennis and his team. The staff were attentive and efficient. Dr. Dennis is professional, caring and knowledgeable. I had a shoulder injury and knee injury that required surgery. The whole journey, including pre and post surgery, Dr. Dennis and his team made sure I received the best treatment possible. Really thankful for the team and I definitely will recommend this place to others.
Jermy Tan
Jermy Tan
2024-04-02
Saw Dr Dennis for my lumbar slipped disc. Great doctor and he explained clearly the different options available. Went with surgery and have been recovering well since then.
Amanda Seah
Amanda Seah
2024-03-02
I came in with a shoulder injury that meds from a GP did not relieve one month ago. Dr Dennis and his team were great in diagnosing the exact injury with an mri, and he prescribed physio. My shoulder condition has greatly improved and I can now move my arm almost completely! Thank you Dr Dennis!
Jaslyn HENG (Kenrick)
Jaslyn HENG (Kenrick)
2024-02-19
A very friendly and nice doctor who manage to cure my elbow issue whjch has been bothering me for more than 6 months! Thank you Doctor Dennis!
Xianmin Jiang
Xianmin Jiang
2024-02-07
I had severe left shoulder pain due to exercise. After MRI checking , it was shown high-grade tendon tearing. Dr Dennis did the surgery for my left should calf repair. After surgery, I strictly follow what he suggested. The recovery was really amazing and fast. I was curious about what happened to my shoulder, he explained in details and with great patience. Now, I am fully recovered in a very fast speed and come back to my loved sports and exercises. I definitely recommend Dr Dennis for his profession, patience and delicate skills. Last not the least, thank for his medical team. The nurses are always prompt to reply when I need help and message them.
Omar Lechuga
Omar Lechuga
2023-12-27
Dr. Dennis helped me with an elbow pinch coming from a trauma. His attention to detail confidence and great empathy really helped me to fully recover. Thank you Dr. Dennis.
Benjamin Mah
Benjamin Mah
2023-12-09
Dr Dennis has been helpful in the diagnosis and explanation of my injury

Dr Dennis Ng Zhaowen
Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
38 Irrawaddy Road #08-41,Singapore 329563

Dr Dennis Ng Zhaowen

  • Senior Consultant Orthopaedic Specialist
MBBS (Singapore)
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MRCSEd
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MMED
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FRCSEdOrth (Gold Medal Award)

Before private practice, Dr Dennis Ng was the former Deputy Head of the Shoulder & Elbow Division and Sports Knee Division in National University Hospital.

He completed his fellowship at the prestigious Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine Centre in London, Ontario, Canada, and has rich experience treating professional athletes and returning them to sports. 

Special areas of interests include keyhole and reconstructive procedures of the knee and ankle. 

Common procedures include ACL Reconstruction, Meniscus repair, Cartilage resurfacing, Knee preservation etc.

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    Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre

    38 Irrawaddy Road #08-41
    Singapore 329563

    Monday – Friday: 9am – 1pm; 2pm – 5pm
    Saturday: 9am – 1pm
    Sunday & PH: CLOSED

    Other Clinic Location

    Gleneagles Medical Center

    6 Napier Road #07-15
    Singapore 258499

    Monday – Friday: 9am – 1pm; 2pm – 5pm
    Saturday: 9am – 1pm
    Sunday & PH: CLOSED

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    What are the common symptoms of knee cartilage injuries?

    Symptoms of knee cartilage injuries include persistent pain that worsens with activity, swelling around the knee joint, stiffness that limits bending or straightening the knee, reduced range of motion, and a sensation of locking or catching within the joint. Additionally, you might experience grinding or popping sounds during movement, joint instability, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected knee.

    Can knee cartilage injuries heal on their own?

    Minor cartilage injuries may improve with rest, ice, compression, elevation (RICE), and other conservative treatments such as physical therapy. However, more severe cartilage injuries, particularly those that cause significant pain or functional impairment, often require medical intervention, such as medications, injections, or even surgical procedures to facilitate proper healing and restore joint function.

    When is surgery required for knee cartilage injuries?

    Surgery may be necessary for severe knee cartilage injuries that do not respond to conservative treatments. This includes cases with persistent pain, significant swelling, or functional impairment that affects daily activities. Surgical options range from minimally invasive procedures like arthroscopic debridement to remove loose fragments, to other techniques such as cartilage repair or restoration procedures, including microfracture, autologous chondrocyte implantation (ACI), or osteochondral autograft transplantation (OATS).

    Can knee cartilage injuries be prevented?

    While not all knee cartilage injuries can be prevented, certain measures can reduce the risk. Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on the knee joints, staying physically active keeps the muscles around the knee strong and flexible, and using proper techniques during sports or physical activities minimises the chance of injury. Additionally, wearing appropriate protective gear and avoiding activities that place excessive strain on the knees can further decrease the likelihood of cartilage damage.

    +65 9751 1486