Cartilage is a firm yet flexible tissue found throughout the body including in the throat, in joints, and in certain structures such as the external ear and nose. Much softer than bone, cartilage falls into three broad categories: hyaline cartilage, elastic cartilage, and fibrocartilage. Ever found yourself asking: what is cartilage? If so, you’re right where you need to be! Let’s discuss the function and different types of cartilage.
What is Cartilage?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines cartilage as, “Firm, flexible connective tissue found in various forms in the larynx and respiratory tract, in structures such as the external ear, and in the articulating surfaces of joints.”
Another cartilage definition is offered by the Cambridge Dictionary, which states that it is, “A type of strong tissue found in humans in the joints (places where two bones connect) and other places such as the nose, throat, and ears.”
A more formal definition of cartilage is shared by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which defines cartilage as, “A usually translucent, somewhat elastic tissue that composes most of the skeleton of vertebrate embryos and except for a small number of structures (such as some joints, respiratory passages, and the external ear) is replaced by bone during ossification in the higher vertebrates.”
Types of Cartilage
Let’s take a closer look at the three types of cartilage found in the human body, as well as the essential functions of each:
Typically found within joints, hyaline cartilage is low-friction, wear-resistant and super flexible. This strong, rubbery tissue is specifically designed to bear and distribute weight where certain bones meet.
Grab one of your ears for a second. What you’re feeling, under the layer of skin, is known as elastic cartilage. This tissue is highly flexible (more so than hyaline cartilage) and is found in the ear, larynx and epiglottis.
Without this type of cartilage, we’d be rendered immobile. Fibro cartilage is super tough and inflexible. It is found at two locations in the human body: the knees and between the vertebrae.
Facts About Cartilage
- Cartilage is comprised of cells called chondrocytes, found in a gelatinous substance mixed with collagen fibres and enveloped in a matrix of tough fibres.
- The most common cartilage found in the human body is hyaline cartilage, also known as articular cartilage.
- Cartilage cushions our skeletal system from impact and, as such, assists in the prevention of injury.
- Owing to a lack of blood cells, cartilage grows very slowly. However, it grows faster than bone.
- While in the womb, a baby’s skeleton is almost completely made of cartilage, which hardens into bone over time through a process called ossification.
- Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage in joints breaks down and becomes brittle, causing pain when performing certain movements.
- Cartilage was first studied by Aristotle in the fourth century BC, who said this of the fibrous tissue: “Cartilage is found where it is an advantage that the solid framework should be pliable and glutinous for the benefit of the flesh that surrounds them.
To learn more about how the vertebrae are made up, as well as the role of cartilage regarding the vertebrae, , sign up for Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Dissection of Vertebrae Course. It is accredited by the Register of Exercise Professionals South Africa (REPSSA) with 3 CPD points. This makes your CPD points internationally transferrable.
Course modules include:
- Learning how to differentiate between the different muscles of the spinal column
- Defining the term ‘muscle fascia’
- Discovering how to work with curvatures of the spine
- Learning about the different parts of the vertebrae in addition to their regional characteristics