Joint Cartilage Replacement

If you have damaged the articular or hyaline cartilage in your ankle, you will likely experience a lot of pain while trying to move around. Joint cartilage replacement is a good treatment option for those that want to avoid joint replacement surgery.

If you would like to find out if the ankle joint cartilage replacement procedure is right for you, make an appointment with the orthopedic surgeons at Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Center. We have several locations throughout Greater Columbus for your convenience.

Do I Need Surgery?

Visiting an orthopedic surgeon doesn’t mean that surgery is necessary. Our orthopedic doctors always prefer to use non-surgical procedures to treat injuries.

What Our Patients Say

We’ve mapped out a strategy for treating some joint deterioration that is designed to keep me moving and enjoying life. They’re willing to spend the time to explain everything and understand my issues and concerns. Thanks!” — Bill H.

What Is Joint Cartilage Replacement?

Joint cartilage replacement is a surgical procedure that results in the formation of articular cartilage around a damaged or worn joint.

When a joint is damaged or worn, cartilage repair surgery may be necessary in order to regenerate or replace the cartilage. A surgeon may use natural and synthetic cartilage, along with surgical techniques, to correct cartilage defects of the foot and ankle.

Who Is This Procedure For?

Anyone who has worn or damaged cartilage that is not severe may benefit from a cartilage repair procedure.

Cartilage damage can occur through sports injuries or traumatic injuries. It can also occur through wear and tear in a condition known as osteoarthritis.

The different types of cartilage injuries that can be treated by cartilage repair surgery include the following:

  • Articular cartilage defects
  • Avascular necrosis (AVN), also known as osteonecrosis
  • Chondral defects
  • Chondral lesions
  • Osteochondral lesions of the talus
  • Osteochondral defects
  • Osteochondritis dissecans lesions
  • Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD)
A woman needing joint cartilage replacement for ankle pain.


In order to diagnose cartilage damage, your surgeon will use several diagnostic methods. They will first consider your medical history. Then they will perform a physical exam.

They will also use imaging tests such as X-rays, extremity MRIs, and weight-bearing CT scans. Imaging tests can show the location and extent of the damaged cartilage.

Types of Cartilage Replacement Procedures

There are several cartilage repair procedures available. An orthopedic foot and ankle specialist can determine the best treatment option for you. Below are some of the procedures available to repair cartilage.

Debridement or Chondroplasty

This surgical procedure removes cartilage lesions that cause mechanical blocks to motion in your joint. Your surgeon will remove these loose fragments of cartilage from inside the joint. This procedure is often used alongside other cartilage regeneration procedures.

These fragments may be taken to a lab to do an MACI procedure. The surgeon may also inject some of your bone marrow cells into the area to aid with healing. The procedure alleviates joint pain and restores motion.


Your surgeon will make numerous tiny holes in the subchondral bone under the injured joint surface. This stimulates blood supply to the cartilage, encouraging new hyaline cartilage growth.


This procedure follows the same principles as microfracture. However, this procedure involves creating holes in the injured joint area using a surgical drill or wires.

Abrasion Arthroplasty

This procedure is similar to microfracture, except this method uses high-speed burs to remove the damaged cartilage.

Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI)

This is a procedure that involves two steps. The first step is to remove healthy cartilage cells from a non-weight-bearing joint. These are then grown in a laboratory to the volume needed to replace the cartilage in the affected joint.

The second step is when the surgeon implants the cartilage cells into the affected joint. The surgeon will take a patch of periosteum (a thick layer of tissue that covers the bone) and attach it to the affected area using fibrin glue. The cartilage cells are then injected under the periosteum. This procedure encourages the growth of new cartilage cells.

Osteochondral Autograft Transplantation Surgery (OATS)

Your surgeon will remove plugs of healthy cartilage tissue from non-weight-bearing areas, and transfer them to the damaged areas of the joint. This method is best used to treat smaller cartilage defects because of the limited graft area.

Matrix-Induced Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (MACI)

This is a common procedure that has a long history of clinical success. Although this surgery is commonly used to treat cartilage on a knee joint, it is very successful with ankles too.

Your surgeon will begin by taking a small sample of healthy cartilage tissue. The cells are then seeded onto a collagen patch inside a laboratory. During a second procedure, the cartilage is shaped and glued into a cartilage defect. The patch will grow into new, healthy cartilage.


Returning to regular activities will happen gradually. The heavier the activity, the longer it will take to recover. For example, you will likely need to use crutches for the first 2 to 3 weeks, but you should be able to walk unaided after that.

Returning to normal activities can take 4 to 6 weeks. However, returning to sports or a high level of fitness may take anywhere between 6 to 12 months.

Your recovery will also depend on the type of procedure that you had. If you have an osteochondral autograft or allograft, you can probably return to sports within 6 months. However, if you have the MACI procedure, it can take between 12 and 18 months to fully recover.

Your recovery period will be accompanied by physical therapy in order to strengthen the affected joint.

Schedule Your Appointment Now

If you want to find out if the ankle joint cartilage replacement procedure is right for you, schedule an appointment with our specialists at Orthopedic Foot & Ankle Center. Our doctors in Columbus, OH are ready to give you the quality care you’re looking for. Contact us today!

Medically Reviewed by: Roberto A. Brandão, DPM, FACFAS

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