Cartilage is a tissue that lines the ends of our bones. It helps joints move smoothly. If cartilage is damaged or worn away, the joint may wear away, and cause pain and limited motion. This condition is called osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease.
Cartilage is one of the few tissues in the body that does not quickly heal after injury. Thats why researchers have been trying for decades to perfect techniques to repair or replace damaged cartilage. Unfortunately, the going has been slow.
But there is a procedure that can help certain patients. During chondrocyte grafting the cells that make cartilage are harvested from a patient and grown outside the body for a period of time. Then they are applied directly on the area of missing cartilage.
This procedure is usually successful in younger people with a small area of injured cartilage. Nearly all of these procedures are done on an injured knee. Thats because it is a large joint that can be easily accessed with an arthroscope (an instrument used to look inside knees and to perform minor surgery). This treatment is not usually offered when there is larger area of damage (as in most cases of degenerative joint disease or when a joint other than the knee is involved, such as the ankle). Its less likely to be successful.
During your debridement surgery, the irregular surface of the cartilage is smoothed over and debris is removed. Since your injuries or arthritis required debridement, its likely that you have more than just a small area of cartilage damage. That and the fact that its your ankle, means cartilage replacement with chondrocyte grafting is probably not a good option.
Still, cartilage replacement procedures will probably improve in the near future. Doctors are experimenting with joint stem cell injections and other innovative treatments to stabilize or even reverse degenerative joint disease.
There is good news. You may get relief from the arthritis in your ankle from other treatments, including surgery or injectable medicines (such as cortisone). Go over all of your options with your doctors, including consultation with an orthopedist or podiatrist with expertise in ankle disease or a rheumatologist (arthritis specialist).