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What Is Chondroplasty?

A surgeon may scrape away dead cartilage cells using a scalpel during a chondroplasty.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 April 2014
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Chondroplasty is a surgical procedure performed to help repair damaged cartilage tissue within a joint. It is most commonly performed on the knee following a traumatic injury, though patients who have injuries to other major body joints or chronic complications of arthritis may also be good candidates for the procedure. Chondroplasty typically involves a minimally-invasive arthroscopic operation performed by a skilled orthopedic surgeon. It can usually be performed in about one hour in an outpatient setting. Most patients who undergo the procedure are able to make near full recoveries in less than six months when they follow their doctors' instructions about home care and proper rehabilitation exercises.

Cartilage is made up of strong connective tissue that helps stabilize and cushion joints. When a section of cartilage is damaged due to an injury or an autoimmune problem such as arthritis, the joint may become stiff, sore, and highly susceptible to future complications. Torn or deteriorated cartilage cannot effectively heal itself because blood supply to the area is limited. Chondroplasty can be performed to cut out damaged cartilage and reshape the underlying healthy tissue, providing the best possible chances of successful regeneration. The scar tissue that forms following the procedure is rich in nutrients and helps the joint recover.

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Before chondroplasty, a patient may be given a local or general anesthetic and a sedative. The orthopedic surgeon makes one or more tiny incisions around the damaged joint and inserts an arthroscopic camera to guide the procedure. He or she then carefully scrapes away dead cartilage cells using a scalpel, electric laser device, or other specialized surgical tools. The remaining sections of surface tissue are pulled together and made smooth. Following the procedure, the surgical incisions are sutured and treated with antibiotics.

Most patients are allowed to go home on the same day as their chondroplasty surgeries. They may be fitted with knee braces and given crutches to avoid putting excess strain on their joints during the acute recovery phase. Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory drugs are suggested to help manage pain and swelling for the first few days.

Depending on the extent of the original cartilage damage, a patient may be encouraged to start exercising within the first month or instructed to avoid activity for six weeks or longer. Once the doctor confirms that the joint is healing properly, the patient can begin light rehabilitation exercises. Short walks or low-impact rides on a stationary bicycle can help promote blood and fluid flow through the healing joint. In time, a gradual return to normal activity levels is possible for most patients.

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