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What Is Cartilage?
There are three main types of cartilage in the human body:
Hyaline cartilage: This is the most common type of cartilage in the body, and is found in areas such as the nose, trachea, and the ends of long bones. It provides a smooth surface for joint movement and helps to cushion bones.
Fibrocartilage: This type of cartilage is found in areas such as the intervertebral discs in the spine, the pubic symphysis, and the menisci in the knee. It is stronger and more durable than hyaline cartilage, and is able to withstand heavy loads and pressure.
Elastic cartilage: This type of cartilage is found in areas such as the external ear, the epiglottis, and the larynx. It contains elastic fibres which allow it to be more flexible and resilient than hyaline cartilage.
1. Hyaline Cartilage:
Hyaline cartilage is composed of a dense network of collagen fibres and proteoglycans, which are large molecules made up of proteins and sugars. The collagen fibres provide tensile strength, while the proteoglycans help to absorb shock and distribute pressure evenly across the joint surface. The chondrocytes, which are the cells that produce and maintain the extracellular matrix of the cartilage, are embedded within the matrix itself.
Hyaline cartilage is found in a number of different locations throughout the body, including the articular surfaces of joints, the rib cage, and the respiratory system. Its smooth, glassy appearance and tough yet flexible nature make it an ideal material for load-bearing joints and other weight-bearing structures.
Fibrocartilage is a combination of hyaline cartilage and dense fibrous tissue, which gives it its distinctive strength and toughness. It is composed of a matrix of collagen fibres, proteoglycans, and chondrocytes, but with a higher proportion of collagen fibres than hyaline cartilage.
Fibrocartilage is found in areas of the body where there is a lot of stress and pressure, such as the intervertebral discs, the pubic symphysis, and the menisci of the knee. Its strong and durable nature allows it to withstand heavy loads and pressure, while the proteoglycans help to absorb shock and reduce friction.
3. Elastic Cartilage:
Elastic cartilage is composed of a dense network of elastic fibres and proteoglycans, which give it its characteristic flexibility and resilience. The elastic fibres allow it to return to its original shape after being stretched or compressed, making it ideal for structures that need to bend and flex, such as the external ear, the epiglottis, and the larynx.
Like hyaline cartilage, elastic cartilage also contains chondrocytes embedded within the extracellular matrix, which produce and maintain the structure of the tissue.
Cartilage is important for several reasons:
Each type of cartilage has a slightly different structure and function, but all play important roles in supporting and protecting the body's tissues and organs.
Provides structure and support: Cartilage provides structure and support to various parts of the body and helps to maintain the shape of these structures and prevents them from collapsing or deforming.
Cushions joints: In joints, such as the knee or hip, cartilage acts as a shock absorber, helping to distribute weight and reduce friction. This reduces the risk of joint damage and pain.
Facilitates movement: Cartilage allows joints to move smoothly and easily, providing a smooth surface for bones to glide over.
Maintains bone health: Cartilage plays a role in maintaining bone health by providing a surface for bones to grow and develop.
Cartilage can be damaged over time or due to injury, leading to conditions such as osteoarthritis. Injuries to cartilage can also be difficult to heal due to the limited blood supply to cartilage tissue. As a result, understanding the different types of cartilage and their properties can help in the development of treatments and therapies for conditions related to cartilage damage or degradation.
Kumar, V., Abbas, A. K., & Aster, J. C. (2014). Robbins basic pathology (9th ed.). Elsevier/Saunders.
Benjamin, M., & Ralphs, J. R. (1998). Fibrocartilage in tendons and ligaments--an adaptation to compressive load. Journal of anatomy, 193 (4), 481–494.
Sivan, Y., & Weisman, G. (2012). Elastic cartilage: Structure, function, and tissue engineering applications. Tissue engineering. Part B, Reviews, 18 (2), 122–133.
This article has been written by Adey,
BSc MCs MHCPC MCSP
Having worked in professional sport for over 10 years, which included the Rugby Premership and The English Football League, Adey has a wealth of experience with dealing with injury and rehabilitation in the sports world. His desire, commitment, people skills and knowledge are why he has a great reputation in the clubs and teams he has been involved with. Alongside working for RecoverFit, Adey also works in the military as a physiotherapist.
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