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What is chondromalacia?

Chondromalacia is a word used to describe the condition of joint cartilage when it becomes softened. Chondro=cartilage. Malacia=softened. That is all that chondromalacia means!

Unfortunately, this term was used in many publications, both on the web and in professional medical publications as if it was a discrete diagnosis, involving pain in front of the knee, difficulty with stairs, crackly noises on bending the knee and other symptoms now accepted as general symptoms of any patellar disorder.

This has caused tremendous distress for patients. They are often told that they have 'chondromalacia' and they accept this as a diagnosis and seek a specific management. But in fact their symptoms may be due to any one of the patellar disorders, and what they really need is a proper assessment of the patella, the gait, the trunk and the feet, and a proper diagnosis.

chondromalacia

In the medical literature, authors are mostly now taking care to put this term into its proper context, using it to describe the cartilage changes a surgeon may note when he examines the cartilage surfaces during arthroscopy, for example, as you see in this photograph. Such softening is also known as Grade I on the Outerbridge scale of cartilage damage, when the surgeon can 'dimple' the softened cartilage with a blunt probe. But on the internet there is still widespread misuse of the term.

Updated: 17 Apr, 2013
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Sheila Strover

Clinical Editor
Degrees: 
BSc (Hons)
MB BCh
MBA

Dr Sheila Strover is the founder of the KNEEguru website. Although not a knee surgeon, she has a sound understanding of knee surgery and...

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