If you experience pain and swelling, stiffness and/or limited range of motion in your joint(s), you’ve probably damaged your cartilage or may have osteoarthritis.

Cartilage is the connective tissue on the end of bones that cushions joints and helps them move smoothly and easily. A bad fall or accident that delivers a direct blow to the joint can damage the cartilage causing pain, swelling and stiffness in the joint. Advanced age, excess weight and certain genetic factors can also cause the cartilage to breakdown and deteriorate.

You’ve probably hear the expression “bone on bone”. It is a common way for people to describe the lack of cartilage in their joint. In medical terms, the lack of cartilage is referred to as osteoarthritis. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), osteoarthritis affects more than 27 million Americans.

We spoke with Dr. Peter Gerbino, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine about his tips for how to best prevent the loss of cartilage. Here’s what we learned.

Q: Good nutrition: We follow David Katz, MD with the True Health Initiative for nutrition tips. He recommends a diet made up mostly of vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and plain water for thirst. Do you concur or do you recommend something different?

PG: Sounds good to me.

Q: Good sleep: Is sleep important for the prevention of accidental injuries that can damage cartilage? Or is there a specific relationship between sleep and cartilage?

PG: Sleep is important. The lack of sleep over an extended period definitely increases the risk for injury both at home and on the job. There is no known association to cartilage.

Q: Reduce risk of high impact loading: Are you referring to high impact exercises [ie. Running] and sports [ie. basketball, football, rugby etc.]? What about a highly physical job like construction?

PG: Running with a prior injury as well as all high impact sports and jobs increase the risk of cartilage damage. Give your body time to heal when injured and take measures to reduce the impact to your joints. 

Q: Treat infections: How are infections that threaten the health of cartilage typically incurred?

PG: Blood infections or direct inoculation. Blood infections result when a bacterial infection elsewhere enter the blood stream. Whereas direct inoculation can occur after a trauma or surgery. When a blood infection occurs, timely diagnosis and treatment is important.

Q: Evaluate biomechanics: Are you referring to an ergonomic assessment on the job, gait assessment and proper shoes? Or are you referring to something else?

PG: Yes. Excess body weight changes your biomechanics which affects the alignment of the knee and wear of the cartilage. People with excess body weight often experience increased musculoskeletal pain and foot discomfort during weight-bearing activities as well. Talk to your doctor.

Q: Consider Supplements: Given that you put a question mark by supplements, is there any benefit from taking supplements?

PG: Some supplements might help: chondroitin sulfate and hyaluronic acid. Those taking prescription medications should consult their doctor for possible drug interactions before taking supplements.

Q. Manage inflammation & crystal deposition: Is the main issue proper and timely diagnosis of the condition or is management of the condition to prevent damage more of an issue?

PG: Accurate and timely diagnosis and management of the condition are equally important for preserving the health of your cartilage.

Inflammatory conditions include: Rheumatoid arthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, Lupus, Ankylosing Spondylitis and Senronegative Arthritis

Crystal Deposition conditions include: Gout and Pseudogout

Q. Exercise: balanced exercise program that includes stretching, cardio and strength conditioning can prevent damage to the cartilage. Can exercise also help heal damage cartilage? Richard Bedard wrote a book claiming he saved his knees.

PG: Cartilage does heal, but very slowly. Exercise can help.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends:

  • gentle stretching to maintain flexibility and range of motion
  • aerobic and endurance training to achieve or maintain a healthy weight and improve mood and stamina
  • strengthening exercises to build up the muscles around the joints