Osteochondritis Dissecans: Symptoms, Treatment, & Recovery
Osteochondritis Dissecans occurs when a piece of bone underneath a joint’s cartilage does not receive enough blood flow, then dies and cracks as a result. This small piece of bone and cartilage can become dislodged, causing pain and limited mobility. The most common site for osteochondritis dissecans is the knee joint, but it can also happen in other joints. The people most commonly affected by this joint condition are children and adolescents. If the child is still developing, the condition might heal without intervention.
What Causes Osteochondritis Dissecans?
We do not fully understand what causes osteochondritis dissecans. It is possible it has something to do with genetics or repetitive jumping or playing over time that contributes to the reduction in blood flow to the area.
Osteochondritis Dissecans Risk Factors
Though we do not understand the exact cause or causes, osteochondritis dissecans most commonly occurs in very active children or young adults between the ages of ten and twenty.
Symptoms of Osteochondritis Dissecans
Symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans may include: pain in the joint during or after playing sports or performing activities; swelling around the affected joint; inability to fully flex, extend, or move the joint; limping; clicking or popping in the joint; and weakness in the joint.
How is Osteochondritis Dissecans Diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination of the joint after collecting medical history and discussing the symptoms. Afterward, imaging may be required, including: X-rays to show the bone fragment that is affected; an MRI and ultrasound to show any cartilage issues; and a CT scan for more detail than X-rays.
Treatment for Osteochondritis Dissecans
Osteochondritis Dissecans may be treated surgically or non-surgically.
If the patient experiencing osteochondritis dissecans is young, they will often heal without surgical or nonsurgical intervention. If, however, pain is still experienced after this non-intervention period, the doctor may recommend the following nonsurgical methods: use of crutches (knee), a sling (elbow), or booting/casting (ankle) the joint.
If pain and swelling do not resolve with the non-intervention and nonsurgical techniques, or if the bone has already separated from the surrounding bone and/or the affected area is greater than 1cm in diameter, then your doctor may intervene with one of the following surgical techniques: using screws or pins to hold the bone in place, drilling holes into the afflicted area to promote blood flow and healing, using a bone/cartilage graft to replace the dead bone.
Osteochondritis Dissecans Recovery Time
Recovery from nonsurgical interventions to osteochondritis dissecans should take about 2-4 months. During this time, the patient may be required to use crutches, a sling, or a boot for up to six weeks. After surgical interventions, the patient will require crutches for about six weeks. Physical therapy to strengthen the joint can last anywhere from 2-4 months after the patient recovers sufficiently to perform exercises. Full return to sporting activities may be achieved in 4-5 months.
How Can I Prevent Osteochondritis Dissecans?
Since the primary causes of osteochondritis dissecans are unknown, prevention is difficult. However, since we understand that children and adolescents who are very active between the ages of 10 and 20 are most at risk, they should take precautions to perform sporting activities using the correct equipment and by making sure to perform sufficient warmup and cool-down activities prior to and after sports.
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