Cartilage Transplantation at Spire Southampton Hospital

The novel technique of "cartilage transplantation" is now available at Spire Southampton Hospital, a highly specialised procedure used to effectively treat patients with serious knee cartilage problems.

What is cartilage?

The articular (joint) cartilage ensures supple knee movements and forms an indispensible part of the knee joint. Joint cartilage is a thin, soft tissue that protects the bone and makes certain that the joint surfaces can slide easily over each other.

Cartilage transplantation can treat all sizes and locations of cartilage defects

Cartilage injuries treated at Spire Southampton Hospital

The knee is one of the most important and most heavily utilised joints in the human body. Although most of us do not realise it, our knees have a lot to endure from our active modern lifestyles. In some cases, resulting from an accident or injury, this delicate cartilage may be damaged - which causes significant pain and mechanical 'catching' or clicking and can permanently impair our daily activities such as climbing stairs, jogging, lifting, squatting and cycling.

What causes the pain?

The pain felt by people with a cartilage injury does not come from the cartilage itself but from the irritated tissue surrounding the area of damaged cartilage, or from pieces of cartilage that have come loose. If cartilage injuries go untreated the layer of cartilage will wear away much more quickly than would otherwise be expected, leading to 'wear and tear' osteoarthritis and immobility.

What does the surgery involve?

There are two stages to this highly specialised procedure. The first stage involving a daycase 'keyhole' surgery operation. Using minimally invasive techniques, the surgeon makes two small incisions in the knee to assess the damaged cartilage using a fibre optic camera. If there are any loose bits of cartilage these will be removed. The surgeon carefully harvests a very small amount of healthy living cartilage which is used to 'grow' your new living cartilage cells for the next stage. This is a minor intervention and in most cases you should be able to leave the hospital the same day.

This sample of a few thousand living cartilage cells is sent to a specialised laboratory to be cultivated and after 4-6 weeks the millions of personalised living cells can be re-implanted into the knee.

The second stage of surgery involves a small incision to open the knee and the surgeon prepares the damaged area, suturing a synthetic resorbable patch over the area and carefully injecting the 'live' cultured cartilage cells which attach to the bone and then slowly start forming new healthy cartilage tissue. After this operation the patient usually remains in the hospital for 2 days.


Rehabilitation is very important for such specialised surgery and will start during your stay in hospital. During the first two weeks following the mini-open knee surgery, no strain should be placed on the growing cartilage cells and you can mobilise on crutches. After this period of rest, the stress on the knee can be gradually increased. To aid the rehabilitation process, the patient is given a personalised scheme, depending on location and size of the growing cartilage, that is used by the physiotherapist during your rehabilitation period.

If you suffer from the following, you may be suitable for cartilage transplantation:

  • Pain
  • Locking or 'jamming'
  • Momentary 'catching'
  • Painful 'giving way' or collapse of the knee
  • Clicking / grinding
  • Recurrent swelling

Benefits of cartilage surgery over previous techniques:

  • Shorter surgery times
  • Shorter recovery times
  • Reduced pain
  • Lower risk of complications
  • Significantly more cost effective than multiple 'keyhole' failed operations
  • Treats all sizes and locations of cartilage defects
  • Improved quality of life
  • Ensures growth of healthy joint cartilage
  • Clinically proven to be more effective than microfracture

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Our Specialist Orthopaedic Consultant

Philip Chapman-Sheath, Spire Southampton Hospital Hampshire

View Mr Chapman-Sheath's profile

Other knee conditions also treated at Spire Southampton Hospital by Mr Chapman-Sheath:

  • sports injuries
  • cartilage transplantation
  • ligament reconstruction
  • knee arthroscopy
  • primary and revision knee replacements
  • knee trauma

For more information you can also visit Mr Chapman-Sheath's website The Knee Group

Physio at Spire Southampton

Knee surgery rehabilitation at Spire Southampton Hospital

Our Physiotherapy department can help you on your road to recovery. Click here for further information.

Patient Stories

Liz Coveney, from Hythe, Hampshire, had knee cartilage transplantation surgery, meaning she did not need a full joint replacement operation. Click below for news coverage of her treatment.

Roger Winkworth, a patient of Mr Chapman-Sheath's who after surgery went on to trek 150 miles for charity.

© Spire Healthcare Group plc (2016)