In a series of 103 specimens from the lateral facet of the human patella, the intrinsic mechanical properties of articular cartilage were measured using a confined compression creep test. By considering the cartilage as a porous, permeable solid filed with fluid, this experimental procedure allowed the determination of the intrinsic equilibrium modulus of the cartilage matrix and its permeability to fluid flow. The intrinsic equilibrium modulus and the permeability both were highly correlated with the water content of the tissue; as water content increased, the matrix of the tissue became softer and more permeable. There was only a marginal decrease in the equilibrium modulus of the tissue with increasing age and surface degeneration. The permeability of the cartilage matrix was not significantly correlated with age or degeneration.
Clinical relevance: We concluded that the visual or histological appearance of a cartilage specimen may be a poor indicator of its ability to function as the bearing material in the intact joint. A more reliable indicator of the functional properties of a specimen can be obtained either by direct mechanical testing or by biochemical analysis of its composition.