Exercise and Articular Cartilage

When synovial fluid is warmed by exercise, it becomes thinner (less viscous) and more easily absorbed by the articular cartilage. The cartilage then swells and provides a more effective cushion against compression. For this reason, a warm-up period before vigorous exercise helps protect the articular cartilage from undue wear and tear.

Because cartilage is nonvascular, its repetitive compression during exercise is important to its nutrition and waste removal. Each time a cartilage is compressed, fluid and metabolic wastes are squeezed out of it. When weight is taken off the joint, the cartilage absorbs synovial fluid like a sponge, and the fluid carries oxygen and nutrients to the chondrocytes. Lack of exercise causes the articular cartilages to deteriorate more rapidly from lack of nutrition, oxygenation, and waste removal.

Weight-bearing exercise builds bone mass and strengthens the muscles that stabilize many of the joints, thus reducing the risk of joint dislocations. Excessive joint stress, however, can hasten the progression of osteoarthritis by damaging the articular cartilage (see insight 9.4, p. 320). Swimming is a good way of exercising the joints with minimal damage.

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