A new study has now provided insights into association between cartilage loss, meniscal damage and knee osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a severe disabling disease that affects nearly 20 million Americans, characterized by loss of cartilage. A pair of meniscus, situated on either side of the knee offer support and protection to keep it healthy.
The C-shaped tissue performs many functions few of which include shock absorption, load bearing and enhancement of joint stability. Joint injury that requires the complete or partial surgical removal of the damaged meniscus (meniscectomy) is associated with onset of knee osteoarthritis. It is even regarded as a risk factor for osteoarthritis.
While previous studies have suggested a possible association, the effect of damage of the meniscus, it's reflection on cartilage loss and predisposition to knee osteoarthritis remains poorly understood. The researchers studied the effects of an intact, healthy meniscus on 257 study participants, who had symptoms of knee osteoarthritis.
The subjects were subjected to radiological examination in the form of X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In addition, they provided self-reports of stiffness and joint pain. The position and severity of meniscal damage was assessed using the obtained MR images. History of previous injury, surgery and meniscectomy were present in 29%, 27% and 5% of the subjects assessed.
A high correlation was found between meniscal damage, meniscal malposition and cartilage loss, the impact of which was greater in the joint that connected the lower leg to the knee (tibiofemoral joint). Cartilage loss was also related to meniscal tear, meniscus height and inadequate coverage of the meniscus.
Although the study does not provide complete details regarding the type of meniscal damage that may predispose to cartilage loss and knee osteoarthritis, it does reflect a need for protection of the meniscus and knee form rapid damage in early stages of arthritis. It might even reduce the need for replacement surgery if attempts are made to preserve the cartilage function rather than to remove it.