Last updated: May 26, 2019

What Does Cartilage Mean?

Cartilage is an elastic connective tissue of the musculoskeletal system. Cartilage works to support and cushion joints and bones, smooth friction between joints, and help the skeleton bear mechanical stress. Cartilage also forms the structure of parts of the ears, nose, and respiratory tract. Cartilage injuries often heal slowly and can be a drain on work resources and cost considerable amounts to treat. A non-medical term for cartilage is gristle.


WorkplaceTesting Explains Cartilage

The three main structural components of the musculoskeletal system are bones, muscles, and cartilage. Cartilage provides structural support without the rigidity of bone but is not as flexible as muscle tissue. In the embryonic stage, the body first forms cartilage. Much of this cartilage structure then ossifies into the bones of the skeleton.

There are three types of cartilage, each with varying degrees of flexibility. The most flexible type of cartilage is found in the ears. Cartilage is also found in the larynx and trachea as well as parts of the skull. The connective tissue cushioning the spinal column between vertebrae is a rigid form of cartilage. Cartilage is also found at the ends of the nose and ribs. Many of the body's joints are cushioned by a layer of cartilage. Cartilage at the ends of bones also serves as a smooth surface to reduce friction.

Cartilage is avascular, meaning it does not contain blood vessels. Instead, nutrients are delivered to cartilage by spreading throughout the tissue, where they eventually reach lacunae (spaces) which house each cartilage cell, or chondrocyte. Cartilage cells thus heal very slowly. Injuries and tears to cartilage can be very painful and require surgical repair. Articular cartilage between the joints may be damaged by injury or osteoarthritis. Damage to the fibrocartilage between the vertebrae may cause a herniated disc.




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