Patients can live pain-free with cartilage restoration


If you suffer from chronic knee pain, joint replacement surgery can drastically improve your life. But what if you’re too young to be a good candidate for the procedure?

For a long time, the answer was you wait. Now orthopedic surgeons like Dr. Michael Trice are giving people new options.

“When patients under 40 or even 50 have joint replacements, many of the joints fail early,” says Dr. Trice. “It is common for these patients to have the replacement done over again in five to ten years. A cartilage transplant can delay or prevent a joint replacement altogether. With a transplant, the worst thing that can happen is that it fails but if it does, you can always have a joint replacement.”



Cartilage replacement uses tissue from a person’s own body or from a tissue donor to grow new cells, which are transplanted into the knee to replace or repair the damaged area. About 300,000 cells are harvested from a non-weight bearing area of the knee.

“That’s about the size of a Tic Tac,” says Dr. Trice.

In the lab, that small sample grows to 12 million cells, which are put into the knee.

“We put tissue there as well so the cells don’t ‘blow away,’ so they adhere down to your knee like the grass in your backyard,” Dr. Trice explains.

Cartilage transplants are less invasive and traumatic to the body than joint replacement surgery and, more importantly according to Dr. Trice, it doesn’t close any doors for future treatment.

“You’re able to use your own tissue in most of these cases,” says Dr. Trice, “and if it fails, you can do it over again or have knee replacement surgery. So it doesn’t burn any bridges.”


The good news is that most people don’t have to undergo restoration surgery more than once for it to be successful; Dr. Trice estimates it works for roughly 90 percent of patients when only one area is targeted. For many people, the results are life changing.

“One patient came to me; he was 35, and he had had 11 operations. He was miserable. Every step he took caused him pain,” Dr. Trice explains. “He needed a joint replacement, but no one wanted to do it on him because they said it would fail within five years. I did a cartilage transplant on him, and now he has been without pain for four years.”

Dr. Trice has even performed cartilage transplants on kids as young as 11 or 12 who suffer from badly damaged knees. “One of my kids just sent me a video of him winning the high jump in a track meet!”


Cartilage restoration is not yet widely available, something Dr. Trice is helping to change. Over the last five years, he has become one of the 10 most prolific cartilage surgeons in the country. He has treated patients from all over the world, and founded the Cartilage Restoration Center at Johns Hopkins. He served as the director of that program for seven years before moving to Texas in August 2013.

“For many of my patients who couldn’t get back to sports or walk without pain, now we can get them back to an active lifestyle,” Dr Trice says. “It’s a special opportunity.”