Cartilage Tissue

Cartilage tissue is one of the forms of connective tissue characterized by a significant degree of structure and, in some varieties, high strength. Symptoms of its degeneration are a common cause of persistent, severe pain.

Cartilage is a cohesive form of connective tissue that serves as joint surfaces and connects elements of the skeletal and muscular systems. Its characteristic forms are hyaline, elastic and fibrous cartilage.

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Cartilage tissue - structure

Cartilage tissue includes cartilage cells called chondrocytes and an amorphous substance - the so-called mother. It is composed of hyaluronic acid and proteoglycans. This substance also contains numerous connective tissue fibers, which may be adhesive or elastic in nature.

The first type is intended to create, together with the matrix, a coherent cartilage foundation, while the second one gives it appropriate mechanical properties - elasticity and strength.

Cartilage tissue is neither innervated nor vascularized. Generally, the level of its metabolism is quite low, but chondrocytes (like other cells) must receive oxygen and building materials.

They feed on the transfer of nutrients, oxygen and carbon dioxide from (and into) the highly vascularized membrane covering it called the perichondrium. Synovial fluid, which fills the space between the contacting bone surfaces, also plays a certain role in this process.

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Cartilage tissue - types

Not all cartilage is built the same way. They differ in the proportions of individual building elements. The main three types of cartilage found in the human body are:

  • hyaline cartilage tissue - containing a lot of strong type II collagen fibers - usually has a smooth, hard surface; elements of joints, cartilage of the larynx, trachea and bronchi, and partly ribs
  • fibrous cartilage tissue - also consisting largely of collagen, in this case type I - forms tendons, ligaments, fascias and other elements connecting human bones, such as intervertebral discs, cartilaginous parts of the pubic symphysis and menisci in the knee joint
  • elastic cartilage tissue - its main feature is high elasticity - soft structural elements of the body are shaped from it, such as the nose, auricle, ducts in the organ of hearing, and some small cartilages of the larynx

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The role of cartilage tissue in the body

Cartilage tissue has a supporting function in the body, which means that it stabilizes the skeleton and connects all elements of the skeletal system. It also ensures appropriate fluidity of movements due to the fact that the interarticular cartilages are durable, smooth and allow gentle movement between each other.

Cartilage is also exceptionally durable, which allows it to maintain full mobility for many years.

Cartilage tissue is particularly important during the development period - when the child grows, his body changes and the bones grow very quickly. Most bones in adolescence and childhood are made almost entirely of cartilage, which allows them to grow and ensure adequate regeneration during injuries.

If a small child's bones were made entirely of bone tissue, their further growth would be impossible. Therefore, most bone elements (especially long ones) are made of cartilage during the development of a young organism.

This applies primarily to the metaphyses and epiphyses of bones, heads, condyles and other articular surfaces. The cartilage parts transform into bony elements gradually, allowing the bones to grow.

Its specific and extremely important function is the co-creation of joints. The strength and smoothness of the cartilage tissue means that the resistance to movement of the joint surfaces relative to each other is low and the resulting fluidity of movement is very high.

The considerable strength of cartilage allows the joints to remain fully functional for many years.

A characteristic place of cartilage is the flexible, fixed interosseous connections, which do not provide joint-like mobility. Cartilage tissue, together with fibrous elements, forms cartilage adhesions.

Characteristic examples here are the intervertebral discs and the pubic symphysis. Cartilage also often covers the places where tendons and ligaments attach to bones. There, they create an intermediary layer that ensures the flexibility of the connection and, therefore, resistance to injuries.

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Cartilage tissue - the most common diseases

The most common cartilage diseases are age-related changes. The cartilage in the joints is subject to gradual abrasion and micro-injuries associated with overload.

This causes them to crack, thin out or even disappear. During subsequent movements, it generates inflammatory reactions, which cause discomfort and the formation of permanent degenerative changes, such as bone exostosis.

The patient experiences these changes in the form of recurrent pain, joint swelling and limited mobility. In some cases, such degenerations require surgical treatment. Examples of diseases associated with cartilage degeneration are:

  • changes in the spine and radicular syndromes associated with discopathy (e.g. sciatica)
  • degeneration of hip joints (sometimes requiring arthroplasty)
  • changes in the metacarpophalangeal and interphalangeal joints in older people

A specific type of pathology is associated with the menisci. They are part of the knee joint, which is subject to great loads when walking, running, doing physical work or playing sports.

This means that degenerative changes in the knee appear relatively early. At the same time, acute injuries often cause meniscal tears, which causes significant discomfort and impaired joint function.

These types of changes can now be very well diagnosed using ultrasonography (USG) or computed tomography (CT). Treatment in more serious cases is surgical - the procedure is most often performed endoscopically, during arthroscopy.

How to care for cartilage tissue

Cartilage tissue will serve our body for a very long time if we take proper care of it. Moderate daily physical activity (which also includes a walk or a family bike trip), a balanced diet and regular check-ups can protect us from problems.

It is also important not to ignore any pain symptoms and to consult a doctor with any doubts. This is especially important if degenerations run in our family.

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