Disorders of articular cartilage represent some of the most common and debilitating diseases encountered in orthopaedic practice. Understanding the normal functioning of articular cartilage is a prerequisite to understanding its pathologic processes. The mechanical properties of articular cartilage arise from the complex structure and interactions of its biochemical constituents: mostly water, electrolytes, and a solid matrix composed primarily of collagen and proteoglycan. The viscoelastic properties of cartilage, due primarily to fluid flow through the solid matrix, can explain much of the deformational responses observed under many loading conditions. Degenerative processes can often be explained by a breakdown of the normal load-bearing capacity of cartilage which arises from the mechanics of this fluid flow. Several factors which may lead to such a breakdown include direct trauma to the cartilage, obesity, immobilization, and excessive repetitive loading of the cartilage. Sports activity, without traumatic injury, does not appear to be a risk factor for the development of osteoarthritis in the normal joint; however, such activity may be harmful to an abnormal joint.