Q+A: Can my knee cartilage be regrown?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by Simon Moyes

Q Severe osteoarthritis in both knees has forced me to stop running. Some time ago I read about a pioneering operation that was performed on a professional footballer, in which sections of the knee cartilage were removed, regrown in a laboratory, and then replaced in the knee. Is this an option for a former runner like me?

A You are quite correct in assuming that this treatment is going on – it is being pioneered in Scandinavia and in a few centres around the UK and the States. At the moment the technique is experimental and appears to only definitely work in rabbits. The problem is that at the moment the cartilage grafts tend to fail in areas of the knee where there is significant load. This means that the surgeons who are performing the procedure have to select carefully their patients and know which ones are going to do well with the procedure. There is actually only a very small percentage of patients with arthritic-type problems who would benefit from the procedure, and even those patients undertaking it have to understand that it is still experimental.

If you have severe osteoarthritis in both your knees, then – sadly – this is not the procedure for you.

Simon Moyes, consultant orthopaedic surgeon, www.simonmoyes.com

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Discuss this article

6-weeks ago I had a knee op to remove some of my cartlidge, 2 weeks ago I started running slowly and then building up after week, however now I'm having a bit of pain in my knee. Is it too early to start running properly
Posted: 22/11/2002 at 09:15

Posted: 22/11/2002 at 13:20

Rocket -- In a word, YES!! I had this op and it took me 8 weeks to recover, through overdoing it early on, I ended up on crutches for 5 weeks so I'd go the way Gobby suggests cycling/swimming or even walking but don't run! Think about why you needed tha cartilage op in the first place..? Mine was because I twisted my knee in a gulley on a cross country run! 10 years later I still wear a support on that knee when running because I didn't do thing properly early on. You should still be seeing the consultant & physio anyway shouldn't you..? Have they said 2 weeks was too soon..? You should build up more slowly ONCE THE PAIN subsides and always ICE after exercise when getting back into it - Paula does it!
Posted: 22/11/2002 at 13:28

Thanks very much good advise, I've backed off running completely and will try to do just cycling and swimming however I'm not a good swimmer and I get frustrated with it. Unfortunatly I couldn't go and see the consultant after the op because I had the op in Australia and I live in vietnam, and so I was calculating the time to start running by myself, also was before I knew about this site. Anyway thanks for the help and I keep you posted
Posted: 25/11/2002 at 14:49

It has been a long time since someone wrote here. Another question : I had a cruciate ligament op. and they took some cartilege out whilst they were at it. The surgeon said the other side had ripped cartilege too. He told me that I should not run. However, that is just doctors, isn't it? Used to run loads, getting back into it and aiming to do the marathon. Unfortunately my knees were sore after doing just 8 miles on Monday. What do I do? Ignore the surgeon and listen to my dad? Or ignore my want to run and listen to the surgeon and Mum?
Posted: 24/07/2003 at 06:49

I guess listen to your body Fiona - if your knees are a bit sore but settle down quickly then I would continue to run but build up slowly and cautiously
Posted: 24/07/2003 at 09:03

I'm now running after starting off too quickly, It took alot of patients for myself. I'm used to running pretty hard alot of the time and my body kept going into automatic mode so the only way I slow myself down was to run laps of a track or park where I could pace myself my body was able to go quicker but my knee not. But like I say I'm back into it now however I haven't had a long run to test it but I can still do 10 x 1Min efforts on concrete path round a busy crowded, park with a really bad surface!! so that tells you alot....hope things go ok
Posted: 24/07/2003 at 14:11

has any one had acl op as i'm having done tuesday need to know how long before back running
Posted: 06/08/2003 at 00:11

I had an arthrosocpy (Right knee)6 weeks ago re: meniscal tear. Recovery seems to be very slow. I am very dedicated to doing my physio exercises and use the exercise bike gently. However, my knee is still very weak and I still walk 'funny'. Also if I sit down I find it very difficult to get back up into standing position - my leg seems unable to hold me for a few seconds - once I start walking it's not so bad.
Physio and doctor reluctant to put a time span on when I will be able to run. It is very frustrating. I would appreciate any 'words of wisdom' from anyone who has had similar surgery esp. regarding length of recovery, return to training etc
Posted: 12/08/2003 at 10:47

i had an operation 12 years ago to remove some damaged cartilage in right knee after playing football.It took a lot of time to start running again (about 3 months)after the operation.i played football again which i shouldnt have done.Twist of the knee must be avoided which is why the cartilage got damaged in the first place even running and turning around suddenly must be avoided. Soft running surfaces must be used to compensate for the lack of cartilage which is not there anymore to reduce impacts. Unfortunately ,cartilage cant grow back.the knee feels weak as the body tend to take stand with the other leg to protect the operated knee (even if you dont want to) which leads to a bit of limping.This can be reduced by muscling the bad leg.
Another thing is damaged cartilage means damaged ligaments which is why the knee feel loose.
the best thing is to protect knee by
-running soft on surfaces
-do weights with bad leg
-avoid turning and twisting at all cost
Posted: 16/08/2003 at 16:12

I had an arthroscopy in August last year to investigate a medial meniscal tear. Physio for the first 6 weeks then gentle work in the gym (with an experienced trainer)- walking on treadmill with attention to pace length, then walking uphill, cycling and rowing. I needed to a variety of leg weights to regain muscle strngth and bulk being careful not to twist my knee. I wasn't able to run for 6 months and then it took time before I was starting to feel vaguely comfortable. It took me MUCH longer than I anticipated. A year on it feels fine!
Posted: 18/08/2003 at 18:33

I had a knee arthroscopy operation 7 weeks ago and lost all the medial cartilage in my right knee. I am keen to start running again but have been advised by surgeon that it is not advisable and that I will need  a knee replacement probably within next 10 years at best or 2 at worse. Not sure if I should run again or stick to other sports such as cycling . Grateful for advice from anyone who has had similar operation 
Posted: 16/06/2008 at 15:48

I missed a stair 2 years ago resulting in my knee twisting badly, to the point where I nearly blacked out with the pain. I initially had lots of physio and 2 steroid injections to deal with the torn ligaments

I had a knee arthroscopy in March this year which found a meniscal tear. Since then recovery has been slow, frustratingly slow. I appreciate the responses here because it appears I'm not alone in this slow recovery - 6 months on and I can run about 25 minutes non-stop, but not pain or swelling free yet. I do most of the exercises and initially was cycling and swimming. I have found that a desk job dosen't help the recovery, I even had one case where my knee completely ceased up one day caused by sitting in the same position for too long. Also, kids don't help recovery as they always want you to be playing football, bending down to play with train sets, etc, etc.

There has been times in the last 6 months where I have felt close to losing the plot but I'm now feeling a little more positive about it .... just. I'm hoping it gets better from here.

Posted: 16/09/2008 at 19:16

I have just had a tear in my meniscus removed.  I havent ran for over 3 years prior to the athroscopy because of the pain.  I waited 8 weeks and ran 2.5 miles fairly slowly, felt good whilst running.  The next day me knee is killing me and now I am feeling the same pain in my knee that was there prior to the op.

I was in the army for 24 years and had the same op on my right knee, no pain although i did leave it a long time before i did anything.

Prior to running my knee felt fantastic, could put my weight on it and could stand, now the discomort has come back and Im completly fed up - i think i'm back to sqaure one.  Has anyone else felt or expeirenced a similiar problem

Posted: 01/10/2009 at 14:13

I'm not a runner but do like to do fast walking. Had an arthroscopy done to both knees for meniscal tears on both sides of both knees. When I got home found for one week, my knees were a little weak, but found I could do everyday things, even without pain killers and anti-inflammatory's. I decided to take the dog for a walk and found when it came to walking more than a mile my knees felt very weak and achy . So decided to walk to the nearest field to my house so my dog could have a run. I had to climb a little hill for about 2 mins and found when I got home that I could have cried. Since then my legs have steadily got worse I saw my specialist again for the post op 2 week check-up and he didn't seem to think nothing of it?. And ask me to come back in a mth. which will be the end of March. My legs feel worse now to how they ever did as I never suffered with pain and weakness like this b4 the op... I can't even kneel on them without jumping up quick again cuz the pain is so bad and to bend my knees to crouch well that's a definite no no and find it impossible to get up by just my legs cuz they are way too weak. so find myself lowering myself to the floor to flip myself round to my front and using all fours to get myself up again.. I only had it done because my legs kept locking, through having mobile knee caps all of my life. I feel very vulnerable now and feel I'll never be the same again and that exercise will defo be out of the question.. Wish I'd never had it done
Posted: 18/03/2011 at 01:09

Donna, you did too much too soon so you shouldn't be surprised that you're in trouble.  You should have taken is really easy for a couple of weeks.

The best I can suggest is you take a complete step back and start your recovery from the beginning again.  Spend two weeks doing very little.  Use anti-inflammatories.  Take stairs slowly.  Don't kneel down.  Don't cycle and definately don't run.  After that start doing things again but take it easy.  No vigorous walking for another couple of weeks.  No running until your knees are 100%, even if that takes more than 6 weeks.  If you have any discomfort stop what you're doing.  Don't push through the pain or you'll do more damage and set your recovery back again.

Posted: 18/03/2011 at 10:25

Donna - I had a hip arthroscopy in September which is apparently a bit more complicated than a knee arthroscopy as its a deeper cavity and they also took quite alot of bone off my hip.  M.ister W is totally right you have to take it slowly - or as someone said to me you cant microwave it you have to slow cook it re surgery/injuries of this nature.  Do everything your surgeon says to the letter contact him if you are worried thats what he is paid for - do you have a physio?  You need to look at what things you can do to make it feel better other than just the antiinflamatories to help build the strength up again there must be some gentle physio movements.

Yes at the moment you feel cr*p - its six months on and I am only just starting to run again and gently on soft ground.  I still get pain when I over do things What you have to think is if you want to be in my case a runner, in yours a fast walker you want to do this for the rest of your life so a few months out now resting and recouperating is worth it

Posted: 18/03/2011 at 11:21

I had arthroscopy end of march,7 weeks later ran for half hour on trendmill feels a bit sore day after .

I will give it a couple  more days rest .

Posted: 14/05/2012 at 17:51

I had a menisectomy in March, 9 weeks on and running is not an option, My consultant advised against running again but when I expressed my passion for running and said I would love to run the London Marathon once more, he relented but said he wouldn't let me train myself back to full strength, I have the help of a Physio to work with me until such time I can run free!  she suggested using the cross trainer it is working well I have little discomfort on the cross trainer and the strength is building in my leg.

I walk 2 miles to work and home again at first even this short distance was painful but slowly the walk gets easier.

I am sure I will run 26.2 miles non-stop again but I am going to be patient to ensure I achieve my goal, as frustrating as waiting is, it is the only way with knee's

Good Luck to everyone in their recovery

Posted: 15/05/2012 at 13:14

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