Salamanders, spiders, starfish, and other creatures have the uncanny ability to actually regrow lost limbs and body parts. Among humans, there are often traits we have that are in some way similar to what is found in the animal kingdom. According to an October 10, 2019 , the ability to regenerate worn cartilage in the back, hips, and joints may be one of them. The hope is that this discovery could lead to a supplement to help people suffering from osteoarthritis and other painful disorders.  

Cartilage Damage a Common Cause of Back, Hip, and Joint Pain

Cartilage is a fine, firm, and flexible tissue that can be found throughout the body. It acts as a cushion between bones and joints but is subject to injury and has the tendency to break down with age. “There are several different types of cartilage in the body, the strongest of which is found in the hip bones and pelvic region as well as between the discs and vertebrae in the spine,” says Dr. Kris Parchuri of Spine & Orthopedic Specialists Tulsa. “Unfortunately, unlike other soft tissue, there is no blood supply to cartilage. As a result, once it is damaged it is significantly harder to heal.” 

Once cartilage is lost or damaged either through injuries or disease, the bones and joints are more likely to rub together. In addition to causing swelling and limited body movements, loss of cartilage is one of the most common causes of chronic pain. 

The Potential for New Treatments for Cartilage Damage

Molecules called microRNA regulate the regeneration process and are most commonly found in animals that are capable of regrowing limbs, such as lizards. Researchers recently discovered microRNAs in humans and are hoping they by using it in future supplemental treatments, it could spark lost cartilage to regenerate itself. 

This could be good news for people who suffer from osteoarthritis (OA), which is a degenerative joint disease caused by a slow loss of cartilage in the hands, hips, and knees. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), OA afflicts more than 30 million adults in the U.S. and is often caused by joint injury, age, overuse, and obesity. 

“Treatments for OA typically center around physical therapy and medications to relieve any pain or inflammation the patient is experiencing,” says Dr. Parchuri. “Getting regular exercise, eating the proper foods, and managing your weight is important as well.”

In severe cases, surgery may be required. As a potential future treatment, the development of microRNA could provide patients with additional non-invasive methods for treating OA and other causes of cartilage loss.