You Can’t Interpret What You Don’t Understand

I found these words ringing in my ear this morning as I heard the orthopedist say something about cartilage and bone and genetics. Then, he showed the x-ray to the mother and told her there was nothing to worry about. That her son would be fine. I could tell she had been burdened by the thought that this would turn out to be something scary. As a mom and as someone whose mind often jumps to “worst case scenario,” I understood her worry and her relief.

Driving out of the parking garage, I knew I had to learn more about the connection between bone and cartilage.  How many times had I interpreted in an orthopedic session? Countless times, but you never know when a new tidbit of knowledge like this will appear—or lack of thereof.  Who knew there was that much to know about growing bones? I could tell by my interpreting during that session that I didn’t quite understand the message. I could interpret the words I heard, but they just didn’t jell for me into a coherent utterance. Later that day I Googled “what role does cartilage play in bone growth?” I had understood during the session, perhaps incorrectly, that bone replaces cartilage as it grows. Well, sort of so let me explain.

Cartilage is a non-vascular supportive, connective tissue, which means it contains no vessels like veins, arteries, or capillaries. Did you know there are three types of cartilage: elastic, hyaline and fibrous? I had taken Anatomy and Physiology I & II way back when, but it didn’t go into such detail. Elastic cartilage maintains the shape of certain body parts and is found in the external ear, epiglottis and larynx. Hyaline cartilage resembles glass when it is “fresh,” and it is the weakest of the three; it is the most common and found in the ribs, nose, larynx, trachea and within the joints. It is this cartilage that is the precursor of bone.  I will describe that process in more detail below. Fibrous cartilage is the strongest and much of it is located around tendons and ligaments. Of course, there is a whole lot more to all this, but that should suffice as a simple explanation since none of us is studying to be an orthopedist.

In addition, hyaline cartilage is the most plentiful in our bodies. It forms the embryonic skeleton or the skeleton found in the very early stages of life. By the sixth to seventh week, the embryo begins the process of bone development. Bone develops and it replaces the hyaline cartilage. The way one article explains it “cartilage serves as a template to be completely replaced by new bone.” Since I learn best visually, I searched YouTube for a good video on bone and cartilage; so many of the videos contain medical school level vocabulary. I did find this video that goes over a lot of what I have written here and doesn’t use too many big words. Here is another good website with a presentation and quiz at the end.

I have come away with a better understanding of bones and cartilage. I am reminded how amazing the human body is and I am in awe of the knowledge of an orthopedist. Orthopaedics seems like a fascinating field of study. I hope this simplified explanation of cartilage and its relationship to bone has been helpful to you. What medical subjects would you like to know more about? Email us at so we can chat!

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