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About Cartilage
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About Cartilage

Cartilage is a tough but flexible tissue that is the main type of connective tissue in the body. Around 65–80% of cartilage is water, although that decreases in older people, and the rest is a gel-like substance called the ‘matrix’ that gives it its form and function.

The matrix is highly organised and consists of several types of specialist proteins, called:

The proteoglycan and noncollagenous proteins bind, or stick to the collagen, which forms a mesh. Water is attracted to the mesh by negatively charged proteins. Together, these give the matrix its consistency.

There are three main types of cartilage:

  • Hyaline
  • Elastic
  • Fibrous

They have different properties that correspond to their specific functions in the body and make it the most appropriate type of cartilage at that particular site.

  • Hyaline, or articular cartilage, is found in the joints, septum of the nose (which separates the nostrils), and the trachea (air tube).
  • Elastic cartilage, which has elastic fibres that make the cartilage more flexible, is found in the ear, part of the nose and the trachea.
  • Fibrous cartilage occurs in special cartilage pads called menisci that help to disperse body weight and reduce friction, such as in the knee.

In the joints, hyaline cartilage forms a very low friction, 3-5 mm thick layer that coats the bony surfaces. This allows the bones of the joint to glide over one another during movement and, ideally, last a lifetime. It also serves as a cushion and shock absorber in the joint.

The articular cartilage matrix is produced and maintained by a group of cartilage cells inside the matrix known as ‘chondrocytes’. These come from a mesh of connective tissue in the embryo called the ‘mesenchyme’.

The volume of cells in the cartilage is small, making up about 1%–2% of the tissue volume in adults. Cartilage contains no blood vessels (avascular), no nerves (aneural) and no lymphatic system (alymphatic). Nutrients have to diffuse through the matrix.

Figures

Cartilage Types

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