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What Is Epiphyseal Cartilage?

A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing the epiphyseal cartilage.
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  • Written By: Mal Baxter
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 April 2014
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Epiphyseal cartilage is a type of cartilage found at each end of a long bone related to bone elongation, or growth. Cartilage is a connective tissue that provides flexible support attaching the bones of the skeleton. Made from a matrix of elastic protein fibers in a gelatinous protein base called chondroitin, this tissue lacks blood vessels and regenerative abilities. In time, cartilage turns into bone through a hardening process known as ossification. Epiphyseal plates, or growth plates that bookend bones, are found in children and adolescents; after reaching adult maturation, the epiphyseal plates reach their growth limit and become epiphyseal lines.

There are three types of cartilage: hyaline, elastic, and fibrocartilage. These differ by the protein fibers within the cartilage matrix. Epiphyseal cartilage is a hyaline cartilage. Composed primarily of collagen, it is the type of tissue found in the nose and voicebox as well as the epiphyseal cartilage of long bones. When it occupies the synovial, or membranous, joints between bones, this articular cartilage helps to provide support, shock absorption, and reduce friction between these skeletal structures.

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Located between the diaphysis, or long shaft, and epiphysis, or end of the bone, the epiphysis starts out in young people separated from the main bone by a layer of epiphyseal cartilage. Eventually it melds with the main part of the bone. Cartilage grows in the epiphyseal plate by pushing the epiphysis away from the diaphysis and hardening into bone. Ossification actually takes place in two separate centers, the primary and secondary, from the primary central shaft of the bone and continuing all the way to its end portion, which is the secondary center of ossification at the epiphysis.

When growth has reached its maximum potential and stops, epiphyseal cartilage disappears. Growth is then eliminated by epiphyseal closure. Developmental defects may lead to growth disorders. A common defect in cartilage formation is known as achondroplasia, one cause of dwarfism.

Bone growth indicates not only developmental progress, but provides more accurate reflection of physiologic maturity than height or even chronological age. Injuries to these growth plates only occur in the pediatric population. Ossification appears in the embryo and continues over a growth period of about two decades.

Skeletal maturation can be indicated by the mineralization of these primary and secondary ossification centers. This process consists of the creation of new cells and tissues, and their formation into a mature, permanent form. Essentially, skeletal maturation occurs in three stages: ossification of the diaphysis, the epiphysis, and ultimately, their fusion.

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Discuss this Article

JackWhack
Post 4

I've read about people undergoing bone lengthening to make one leg match the other. The bones are actually cut and held apart by metal so that new bone tissue will grow.

Then there are cases where one leg needs to be prevented from growing while the other one catches up. I've read that the epiphyseal cartilage is either scraped or stapled so that the longer leg can't grow anymore.

Either process sounds painful and dangerous, but if I had legs of different lengths, I'd probably be willing to try anything. It just seems like cartilage is something that you shouldn't destroy.

orangey03
Post 3

@feasting – I believe so. I know it's all hyaline cartilage, so I would imagine it's all epiphyseal.

My aunt had a nose job, and the doctor had to reposition her cartilage after cutting through her skin. It took her months to recover. Her nose and the surrounding areas were bruised and swollen, and she looked like she had been in a terrible accident.

She couldn't breathe through her nose for months. Just moving around the cartilage a little bit caused that much trauma.

feasting
Post 2

Is epiphyseal cartilage the kind that has to be manipulated during a nose job to give the nose a new shape? I'm aware that the nose contains epiphyseal cartilage, but I'm just wondering if this is the only kind of cartilage in it.

StarJo
Post 1

I had a neighbor with achondroplasia. Her epiphyseal cartilage could not be converted to bone.

She had short bowed legs, short arms, and was extremely sway-backed. Nothing was wrong with her brain, though. She was smarter than most normal sized people that I knew.

Of course, she encountered a lot of teasing and prejudice in her lifetime. She learned to believe that the people making fun of her had the problem, not her. She was just fine with her life.

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