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Treating Damaged Cartilage: What is Microfracture Surgery?

Posted by Mountainstate Orthopedic Associates

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Nov 28, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Joint pain can prevent full range of motion and cause a lot of dysfunction.

Damaged cartilage may be causing you pain in your knee, hip, ankle or shoulder joints, which can keep you from doing the activities you love.

Are you a candidate for microfracture surgery? Read on to learn more.


Joint Pain | Microfracture Surgery

Microfracture is a surgical option used to treat damaged cartilage, most commonly in the knee, but it can also be performed on the hip, ankle or shoulder joints.

Microfracture is a surgery method that treats smaller articular cartilage injuries. Microfracture can be performed to stimulate new cartilage growth when a patient has a small area of damaged cartilage.


A microfracture surgery is performed by arthroscopy, which is a minimally invasive procedure on a joint to repair the damaged cartilage.

  1. During the procedure, the orthopedic surgeon drills holes into the bone where there is cartilage loss to stimulate the body to make new cartilage to fill in the defect.

      2. After assessing the damaged cartilage, any unstable cartilage is removed from the exposed bone.

      3. The surrounding articular cartilage is checked for loose or marginally attached cartilage, and the loose cartilage is removed so that there is stable cartilage surrounding the defect.

       4. Multiple holes, or microfractures, are made in the exposed bone about four millimeters apart.

       5. The bone marrow cells and blood from the holes combine to form a “super clot” that will cover the damaged area. This marrow-filled clot is the basis for new tissue to form.

The microfracture surgery produces a rough bone surface that the clot adheres to more easily. The clot will mature into firm repair tissue that will become durable and smooth.

Think of the surgery like filling in a pothole. When there is a pothole on a cement highway, it gets filled in with asphalt. It is not the same as the surrounding cement, but it is still a filler. Microfracture fills in the new cartilage to give pain relief.


  • Patients with limited areas of damaged cartilage
  • Patients that are active but are not able to do the activities they enjoy
  • Patients with pain or swelling due to the damaged area of cartilage

Microfracture is an option that will relieve joint pain and fill in the damaged cartilage.


  • Pain: Pain from prolonged walking or climbing stairs can occur.
  • Giving way: The knee may buckle or give way when weight is applied.
  • Locking or catching: Loose, floating pieces of cartilage can catch as the joint bends, which causes the joint to lock or have limited motion.
  • Noise: The joint may make noise during motion. It is described as a “snap, crackle and pop.”


After the articular cartilage damage has been diagnosed, there a several factors that can indicate the need for microfracture:

  • The patient has loss of articular cartilage down to the bone in a weight bearing area or area of contact.
  • The patient has loss of function in the joint.
  • The patient has unstable cartilage covering the underlying bone.

Important factors to consider for microfracture procedure:

  • The patient’s age, as a relative indication
  • The patient’s activity level


This is an outpatient procedure that only causes minimal or “short term” discomfort, but rehabilitation may be a lengthy process.

For optimal re-growth of the joint surface, the patient will need to be patient during the postoperative recovery period. Depending on the location of the articular cartilage injury, patients will usually need to be on crutches for four to six weeks.

It is crucial to follow these steps and avoid physical activity until the joint fully heals. Returning to sports or physical activity is delayed six to nine months after surgery.


Mountainstate Orthopedic Associates is one of the regions leading orthopedic practices. Our goal is to get patients back to doing the activities they love without joint pain.

We have been providing quality joint care to our patients since 1977. Don’t let joint pain stop you from doing the things you enjoy.

Give us a call at 304-599-0720, or click below to learn more about joint pain:


Topics: joint pain