NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — If your knees feel stiff, ache and creak when you walk, then you are like millions of other Americans.

But now, a new procedure just approved by the FDA may soon bring relief by restoring lost cartilage.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports, those stiff, painful knees are usually due to osteoarthritis — the loss of cartilage on the ends of bones from wear and tear, injury or sometimes disease. It’s the leading cause of total knee replacements, so doctors have long sought ways to replace that lost cartilage.

One man, named Chris, has had problems with his knees for most of his life. The 33-year-old suffers from a rare condition called osteochondritis dissecans, which causes cartilage in his joints to break down.

“It was quite painful, sports were difficult, and then walking became an issue,” he said.

Chris, who prefers not to use his last name, was too young for a total knee replacement but was a candidate for a new technique called Matrix Autologous Chondrocyte Implant, or MACI.

His own cartilage cells were grown in a lab and placed into a collagen membrane. His surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston cut the membrane to size and filled defects in Chris’ knee cartilage, much like filling a pothole.

Over time, those cells grow and develop into mature cartilage.

“We can just basically template, cut and paste the membrane that’s already pre-loaded with cells into the base of the defect and just glue it there. So that makes it technically much quicker, much easier,” Dr. Tom Minas said.

The technique has been used overseas for years, but was just approved in this country in December. Chris is the first patient in the U.S. to have it.

For Chris, who has had many surgeries before, MACI was almost a breeze.

“It’s been very easy comparatively,” he said.

He’s looking forward to getting back to his daily activities pain-free.

The MACI procedure could be used to treat the many thousands of osteoarthritis patients who suffer from cartilage loss in their knees. Patients can return to most activities within one year and impact sports by 18 months.

Most insurance companies are expected to cover the surgery.

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