Cartilage: Definition and What it is
Medically and clinically reviewed by Jonathan Lee, MD and Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Cartilage Definition and Meaning
Cartilage is a flexible, rubbery connective tissue found throughout the body. It plays a crucial role in covering and protecting the ends of bones at joints. It’s also a structural component of the rib cage, ear, nose, bronchial tubes in the lungs, and intervertebral discs (of the spine).
Types of Cartilage
Cartilage is categorized into three distinct groups, each with specific functions.
Hyaline cartilage is the most common type and is found on the surfaces of joints, in the rib cage, nose, larynx, and trachea (windpipe). Hyaline cartilage is smooth and tough, providing a slick surface that enables bones to smoothly glide over one another at joints.
Elastic cartilage, which is more flexible than hyaline, is found in structures that require both strength and elasticity, such as the ear and the epiglottis in the throat. Its high content of elastic fibers allows it to maintain shape while being bendable and resilient.
Fibrocartilage is the strongest and most durable type of cartilage. It’s found in areas requiring a robust support system, such as the intervertebral discs and menisci of the knee.
Common Cartilage Issues
Cartilage can naturally change over time, which impacts the joints and skeletal system. When this happens, it can contribute to several conditions, including forms of arthritis, which can result in inflammation and swelling in the joints. Inflammation of cartilage in the rib cage, often causing chest pain, is referred to as costochondritis. Cartilage can also be affected by sports injuries or accidents, leading to pain and mobility issues.
Cartilage: A Hinge Health Perspective
Cartilage acts as a shock absorber throughout the body. It plays a key role in function and mobility. So when you learn about cartilage changes in your body, your first instinct may be to limit movement. But that’s outdated thinking. Movement is one of the best things you can do to maintain joint function and mobility. Motion is lotion when it comes to managing joint pain. Movement helps joint pain because it helps to keep the cartilage healthy and strengthens weaker muscles that often contribute to joint pain.
How Physical Therapy Can Help With Cartilage Changes
Physical therapy can help in addressing cartilage changes that are causing pain, stiffness, or other symptoms, offering targeted strategies to enhance joint health. Physical therapists (PTs) may recommend various techniques, including specific exercises that can strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint, which can alleviate stress on the joint itself and improve overall stability and function. You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.
Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Chang, I.-R., & Martin, A. (2018, December 13). Anatomy, Cartilage. NIH National Library of Medicine, StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532964/
Arthritis Facts. (n.d.). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-statistics-facts.php