Whether or not cartilage healing is possible depends mainly on the type of injury or malfunction that has taken place within a joint. In certain injuries, such as when cartilage is torn during a sporting event, some level of healing may take place, although the joint may never fully recover. In other situations, such as in patients with osteoarthritis, cartilage healing is often not possible. Patients with degenerative diseases are often left with few alternatives in repairing damage, although they may be able to prevent any further degeneration from occurring.
The human body is generally very resilient. Bones and tissues are capable of healing and regenerating themselves rather efficiently, even when a serious injury is involved. This is not normally the case with cartilage, which heals at a much slower rate than other bodily tissues.
When an injury to cartilage is caused by overuse, the joint is generally able to heal itself to some degree over time. The amount of cartilage healing that takes place mainly depends on the severity of the injury. Very severely injured joints may never fully recover. Mildly injured patients can generally expect to regain function of the joint over time.
In degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis, the cartilage is slowly destroyed at the joint. Eventually, the wear and tear is so extreme that the two conjoined bones rub directly together. This causes the trademark pain and stiffness associated with the condition. Although there are many remedies to help alleviate the pain associated with the condition, there is very little that can be done to promote full cartilage healing.
Researchers do not currently understand why cartilage doesn't seem to heal as effectively as other parts of the body. One theory is that because cartilage does not contain any blood vessels, it is not able to heal. Proper circulation within bones and tissue is an important factor in how quickly these areas will regenerate. Since cartilage does not have any amount of blood circulation, it may be inhibited from properly healing.
Another theory is that the fluid which coats cartilage may contain something that inhibits healing. Other researchers believe that the same fluid may not inhibit healing, but simply not contain the needed ingredients for proper healing. These theories have not been proven, and more research is needed to find an exact cause.
There are some emerging therapies to help promote cartilage healing. They include heat therapy and certain physical therapies. Some progress has been in made in the rejuvenation of cartilage in some patients, although these treatments won't work for everyone and they may not be covered by certain insurance plans.