Cartilage is the soft-tissue covering of a bone where it meets another bone to form a joint. It is smooth, pearly white, and it glistens.
Damage to cartilage for one reason or another creates degenerative changes to the joint, a condition known as degenerative joint disease.
The most common reason for damage to cartilage is probably trauma--whether it be from one sudden incident like a motor vehicle accident, or from repetitive trauma to a joint because of a misalignment or poor function of the joint.
The many various forms of arthritis will also cause varying degrees of joint damage. Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, crystalline deposition disorders are just a few examples of diseases that result in cartilage damage.
Treatment for damaged cartilage varies. Conservative therapies include anti-inflammatory agents, steroid injections, and physiotherapy. In cases where there is a biomechanical cause to the wearing of the joint, orthoses, braces, and shoe changes may be attempted.
Surgical intervention may include simply removing the damaged areas of cartilage and bone, drilling the bone to promote cartilage growth, fusion of a damaged joint, putting in an joint implant, or, in some cases, removing the joint altogether.