Joint impact trauma has been shown to cause fissures, fibrillation, and other structural damage of the cartilage or subchondral bone. Previous studies used impact energies sufficient to fracture the underlying bone. Under these circumstances, the initial influence of impact trauma on cellular components and cartilage structure is unknown. The goal of this study was to determine whether an impact trauma first causes cellular or structural damage to a cartilage layer. Such damage might be the starting point of degenerative changes found in osteoarthrosis. Porcine patellas (n = 12) were subjected to standardized low-impact loading of three magnitudes with a spherical impactor attached to a drop tower device (0.06, 0.1, and 0.2 J). India ink staining and scanning electron microscopic analysis were used for analysis and showed no evidence of gross structural disruption. Chondrocyte viability assessed with thiazole blue staining and propidium iodide counterstaining was reduced significantly in the tangential and middle zones with increasing impact energy. These results indicate that chondrocyte death may precede excessive structural damage reported in earlier studies and might be a crucial factor in posttraumatic osteoarthrosis.