The present study investigated intra-articular injection of bone-marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) combined with articulated joint distraction as treatment for osteochondral defects. Large osteochondral defects were created in the weight-bearing area of the medial femoral condyle in rabbit knees. Four weeks after defect creation, rabbits were divided into six groups: control group, MSC group, distraction group, distraction + MSC group, temporary distraction group, and temporary distraction + MSC group. Groups with MSC received intra-articular injection of MSCs. Groups with distraction underwent articulated distraction arthroplasty. Groups with temporary distraction discontinued the distraction after 4 weeks. The rabbits were euthanized at 4, 8, and 12 weeks after treatment except temporary distraction groups which were euthanized at only 12 weeks. Histological scores in the distraction + MSC group were significantly better than in the control, MSC group or distraction group at 4 and 8 weeks, but showed no further improvement. At 12 weeks, the temporary distraction + MSC group showed the best results, demonstrating hyaline cartilage repair with regeneration of the osteochondral junction. In conclusion, joint distraction with intra-articular injection of MSCs promotes early cartilage repair, and compressive loading of the repair tissue after temporary distraction stimulates articular cartilage regeneration.