Cartilage holds our bones together and supports our tissues. It is tough, but at the same time flexible, which makes it quite easy to damage this tissue. This tissue has a rubbery texture because it serves to cushion the area between bones and joints. This cushioning helps reduce friction. When we walk, run, or jump, cartilage is there to absorb the impact. For a visual aid, think of the exterior of your earlobe as being made entirely of cartilage. Interestingly, cartilage does not require a blood supply. This means that it takes longer to recover if it is damaged. When cartilage is damaged, it can become painful causing stiffness and swelling.
There are actually 3 types of cartilage:
- Fibrocartilage: This is the hardest type. It is found between the discs of the spine, as well as in the area of the hip and pelvis. This is the type of cartilage that helps in lifting heavy weights. An example of cartilage being damaged would be a slip disc.
- Elastic cartilage: This is the rubbery type that makes up the outside of the ear and the end of the nose.
- Hyalin Cartilage: This type is elastic and hard. It is found between the ribs and in the joints called articular cartilage. Common damaged areas include the knees, elbows, wrists, ankles, shoulders and hips.
Any of these 3 types can be damaged. There may be swelling in the area that causes aches and pains. The range of motion also becomes more limited. The area seems too harsh. This damage may be due to wear and tear due to ongoing stress. For people who are overweight, the risk of this wear and tear increases because of the added pressure on the joints. The eventual loss of cartilage is called osteoarthritis. A direct blow producing a heavy impact can damage the cartilage. For example, sports such as football can cause this effect or be involved in a car accident. On the other hand, being sedentary and lacking in movement can cause damage. Joints require movement.
On any symptoms, a doctor may perform an MRI or arthroscopy (inserting a tube into the joint to assess the damage) to determine the extent of the damage. Although surgery is an option, there are natural remedies we can take to be proactive and preventive with cartilage loss. It starts with what we eat and of course moving the body. Cartilage-promoting foods include dairy, especially kefir and yogurt which can be cartilage superfoods. Brown rice contains hyaluronic acid which acts as a shock absorber for the joints. Blueberries are a superfood that contains antioxidants that help in cellular repair and generation. Bone broth contains collagen and protein. Eating fish, especially sardines, is highly recommended. Turmeric, nuts, green tea and plums are all known to have cartilage repairing power. The focus is on foods rich in omega-3 fish oils, polyphenols, and antioxidants.
Cartilage is not indestructible which we take for granted. Being inactive or being too active can cause damage, so we have to find a balance. Joint health can affect quality of life so it is important to act at the first sign of pain and find out what can be done to help.
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