Background Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) provides information about translational diffusion of fluorescent molecules in tiny detection volumes at the single-molecule level. In normal states, cartilage tissue lacks vascularity, so chondrocyte metabolism depends on diffusion for molecular exchanges. The abundant extracellular matrix (ECM) of cartilage is maintained by a limited number of chondrocytes. ECM plays an important role in the regulation of chondrocyte functions. In this study, FCS was used to measure diffusion behaviors of albumin, the major protein of the intra-articular space, using normal and degenerated cartilage. Preliminary investigation of fluorescence dyes including Alexa 488, Rhodamine 6G and Rhodamine 123 was conducted to evaluate their properties in cartilage. Results The results indicate that the diffusion behaviors of fluorescently lableded albumin can be observed using FCS in both normal and chemically degenerated cartilage. Conclusions This work demonstrates the capability of FCS for direct measurement of diffusion in cartilaginous ECM. When the diffusion characteristics of fluorescent probes in ECM are clarified using FCS evaluation, FCS will be applicable as a method for early diagnosis of osteoarthritis, which is accompanied by increased abnormalities of ECM and also as tool for evaluating bio-engineered artificial cartilage for autologous chondrocyte implantation.