There are many parts of your body made up of cartilage. Plus, it also protects the ends of each of your long bones, protecting them from damage. While cartilage is quite stiff, it is not nearly as hard as your bones are. It has some give to it, but it is far more rigid than your muscles are. It is a good protector of many parts of your body, but in time, it does tend to wear out. This could leave you in pain, or leave you struggling to move your joints in the same way you once did. Here are a few important things to know about the cartilage in your body.
What Is Cartilage Made Of?
Cartilage is made of specialized cells, commonly known as chondrocytes. These cells produce a lot of extra collagen, which is part of where it gets its elasticity from. That is what makes cartilage ideal for keeping tubes within the body open, like the rings of your trachea. It has a bit of give to it, but it is also strong enough to withstand some pressure, helping to protect the different parts of your body. There are three distinct varieties of cartilage, including fibrocartilage, elastic cartilage, and hyaline cartilage. One of the more interesting facts about it, is that it does not have any nerves or blood vessels in it. Any nutrition that the chondrocytes get is simply due to diffusion from the areas that surround the joints.
Elastic cartilage has cells that are closely packed, making it to where there is nearly no intercellular space. This makes it more flexible than other types of cartilage, like what you find in your larynx. Fibrocartilage has cells that are widely spread. There is a ton of intercellular space in this tissue, which makes it firmer. This is the type of cartilage commonly found in your spine. Hyaline cartilage is in the middle. There is some intercellular space, but not a ton. It makes the tissue somewhat flexible, but also somewhat rigid. You will find hyaline cartilage in your nose, among other places.
Where Are the Most Common Places in Your Body That Contain Cartilage?
There are many parts of your body that contain cartilage. Each of your long bones, such as those in your legs and arms, have some at the ends of those bones. They are there to help protect the bones from things like impacts and use. You can also find it in your ribs, the discs in your back, your joints, and even your bronchial tubes. Besides the trachea, this is another area of the body held open by cartilage. There is a bit of flexibility here, but not so much that a deep breath would cause your bronchial tubes to collapse, as an example.
Each of your major joints also uses cartilage to protect it. Your elbows and shoulders, hips and knees, and even your wrists and elbows have some in them. The knees and hips tend to wear out over time, simply from being used. Kneeling, running, squatting, and other similar movements can wear out the cartilage in the joints of your legs. Things like pitching a baseball or a softball, playing tennis, pull-ups, and even boxing can cause the joints in your arms and shoulders to wear out. The more you repeat the same motion, the more likely it is that your cartilage will suffer from it.
How Can You Wear Your Cartilage Out?
You can easily wear out all of the cartilage in your body if you do not take proper care of yourself. Overuse is one way that cartilage can get worn out. Another way is through injury. If you do something, say hurting your back, you can make the discs in your spine come out of alignment. This can put a lot of pressure on the cartilage, and cause it to become increasingly painful. The more pressure you leave on those cartilage points of your body, the sooner they wear out. This can lead to pain, which can lead to surgery in many cases.
Diseases can also impact your cartilage, wearing it out or causing it to become painful to use. Something like osteoarthritis can cause your cartilage to become thinner, then wear out completely. This leaves the bones in your joints rubbing together and miserably painful. At that point, the best thing you can do is try and treat the disease, then once the disease is under control, come up with a treatment plan to help with the painful cartilage.
How Can You Treat Joints with Worn Out Cartilage?
There are a few treatment options that come into play when you have worn out joints. The first is surgery. This involves going in and taking out whatever cartilage is left, and replacing it with a different substance that helps the joint work in the same basic way it did prior to the damage. Physical therapy is another great option when you have cartilage problems. This is obviously non-invasive, making it ideal for most patients. This can help with painful back problems, or even damaged cartilage in the knee. It allows patients to begin to move their joints properly, while the slow process of cartilage repair naturally takes place in the body.
Some places are also trying stem cell therapy within the joints where the cartilage was problematic. This helps the joints regenerate to some degree, and gives the patients a lot of their quality of life back. It is ultimately up to each person what type of treatment they feel comfortable with, and where they have pain. A person struggling with knee pain may be more likely to try and wait it out than someone struggling with chronic neck pain that takes their life away from them.