Articular cartilage surgery (chondroplasty)

A surgical procedure to smooth the surface of the articular cartilage to restore movement in the knee.

About articular cartilage surgery

Articular cartilage surgery involves chondroplasty – where cartilage is smoothed within a joint to restore movement.

There are two types of cartilage in the knee – the thick, rubbery pads of cartilage known as the menisci and the cartilage that coats the ends of the bones in the joint, known as articular cartilage.

Like the meniscus, articular cartilage can get damaged as a result of injury or diseases such as arthritis.

If articular cartilage is torn or damaged, the ragged edges can catch within the joint, causing stiffness, pain and swelling.

Chondroplasty involves smoothing the surface of the articular cartilage by either shaving the articular cartilage or treating it with a radio frequency probe. This allows the surfaces to move with less friction or irritation.

How is articular cartilage surgery carried out?

The surgery is carried out through keyhole surgery (arthroscopically).

It is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, which means you'll be asleep. The operation takes about 30 minutes.

Your surgeon will make a number of small cuts on your knee, and insert a tiny telescopic camera and small surgical instruments. This means your surgeon carry out the operation using a monitor.

The articular cartilage is either cut away or shaved until the surface is smooth. Your surgeon will close the area with surgical tape or dissolvable stitches.

What happens after articular cartilage surgery?

You should be able to return home on the day of the operation and begin putting some weight on your leg immediately.

You will need to use crutches for a few days after surgery and might need to ice your knee if it is still swollen. Any pain should be manageable with over-the-counter painkillers.

You'll need to keep your wounds dry for 48 hours after the operation to help with healing.

If you have a desk job, you may be able to return to work within one to two days. Those with more active jobs may take longer to recover.

You will be given some exercises to help strengthen your knee, and may be referred to a physiotherapist. You should be able to return to sports or exercise after about four to six weeks.

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Published: 14 January 2020 | Review: 14 January 2023

Disclaimer: This information is published by Cromwell Hospital and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence and experience from over 30 years of treating patients. It has been peer reviewed by Cromwell Hospital doctors. The content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. If you have any feedback on the content of this patient information document please email or telephone 020 7460 5901.