Do you know what your nose and your ears have in common? Sure, they both allow you to sense things, but there's something else inside them that they share. What are we talking about? Cartilage, of course!
Squeeze the end of your nose and wiggle it around. Feel how it moves? Do the same with the top of your ear. That stuff under the skin of your nose and ears that gives them their shape but still flexes without breaking is called cartilage.
Cartilage is one of the types of connective tissue in your body. It consists of cells called chondrocytes mixed with collagen and sometimes elastin fibers meshed into a matrix. It's softer and more flexible than bone.
Cartilage gives support and structure to other bodily tissues. It also helps to cushion your joints. There are three different types of cartilage in your body: hyaline cartilage, elastic cartilage, and fibrocartilage.
Hyaline cartilage contains mostly collagen fibers. It lines the bones in all of your joints, helping you to move about freely. This type of cartilage is the most common throughout the human body.
Elastic cartilage contains elastin fibers, making it more flexible than other types of cartilage. Elastic cartilage balances structure with flexibility, making it the perfect substance to help keep tubular structures open. You can find elastic cartilage in your ears and your larynx.
Fibrocartilage contains even more collagen fibers than hyaline cartilage. It's the most rigid type of cartilage and can be found in intervertebral discs in the spine. It's also the strongest type of cartilage. This quality makes it a good connector in high-stress areas of the body, such as between bones and ligaments and tendons.
Cartilage is avascular, which means there are no blood vessels supplying it with nutrients. Instead, cartilage receives nutrients as they diffuse through surrounding connective tissue. Because cartilage lacks blood vessels, it tends to heal more slowly when injured.
Cartilage can become damaged in a variety of ways. An accident can cause direct harm to cartilage in a certain joint, for example. Over time, the wear and tear of everyday life can also damage cartilage.
Damaged cartilage can result in inflammation and severe pain. Damage can even be so severe as to result in a partial or complete disability. If you suspect cartilage damage, you should see a doctor. Doctors can assess potential cartilage damage with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine or arthroscopic surgery.
If cartilage is damaged, it can be treated multiple ways. Minor damage may be treated with special exercises and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. More severe cartilage damage may require surgery.