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It’s easy to take things for granted, such as being able to move without joint pain. In most cases, you have healthy cartilage to thank for that. But, what exactly does it do, and what causes it to deteriorate?

Thomas Calton, MD, brings more than 30 years of experience to his world-class medical facility in the heart of Ogden, Utah. He offers numerous joint pain treatments at Utah Orthopedics, including a special focus on hip and knee replacements. In this blog, Dr. Calton explains the role cartilage plays in your joints.

The anatomy of a joint

In order to understand the importance of cartilage, you have to take a step back and look at the structure of a joint as a whole. A joint gets formed when two or more bones meet. Some joints can move — such as your knees, hips, elbows, and wrists — but others remain fixed in place, such as the bones in your skull.

In joints that move, the bones need to glide against each other smoothly. That’s where cartilage comes in. In a healthy joint, the ends of your bones have a protective covering of articular cartilage. This shiny, connective tissue cushions the bones, creating a smooth surface so they can move against each other easily.

Unlike other types of tissue in your body, your cartilage doesn’t have a blood supply. Instead, you have synovial membranes that surround your joints. This tissue makes a thick fluid to keep your cartilage lubricated and healthy. However, without a blood supply, articular cartilage can’t regrow or heal itself. Therefore, if it deteriorates, the body can’t replace it.

Cartilage and joint function

Your cartilage is very tough and flexible, but this rubbery tissue is highly vulnerable to damage. Unfortunately, this can lead to deterioration, which means less cushioning between your bones.

Without the proper protection, bones can start to grind and rub against each other when they come in contact. Not only can this lead to pain, stiffness, and inflammation, but it can also cause more cartilage degeneration.

Common causes of cartilage degeneration include:

  • Aging
  • Wear and tear
  • Inactivity
  • Joint trauma

Approximately 15 million American adults experience severe joint pain each year, and 1 million have total joint replacement surgery.

Protecting your cartilage

You may not be able to avoid all types of cartilage degeneration. However, by taking the right steps early on, you can help preserve your joint health, even as you age.

To protect your cartilage, Dr. Calton recommends:

  • Not smoking
  • Drinking more water
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Stretching before and after physical activity
  • Stopping if you feel pain
  • Eating a healthy diet

It’s never too late to make these lifestyle changes. In fact, even if you already have cartilage degeneration, all of these modifications can help — especially exercising, which can strengthen the muscles supporting the joint and increase flexibility and function.

If you have joint pain, Dr. Calton can give you a thorough evaluation and help you move well again. To learn more, book an appointment over the phone with Utah Orthopedics today.

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