Joint Pain: Osteochondritis Dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans at a glance

  • Osteochondritis dissecans occurs when a piece of bone or cartilage (or both) inside a joint loses blood supply and dies. This causes a piece of the cartilage, and usually a thin layer of bone beneath it, to separate and sometimes fall into the joint space.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans more often affects the knee, but can also be seen in the ankles, hips, shoulders and elbows. This condition often affects younger people involved in sports or similar high-level activities.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans is caused by a reduced blood flow to the joint, but can also be caused by overuse or injury.
  • Symptoms commonly include pain, swelling, and problems moving the affected joint.
  • Treatment may include resting and bracing the joint, or surgery for more severe cases.

Causes of osteochondritis dissecans joint pain

Osteochondritis dissecans is caused by a reduced blood flow to the end of a bone in a joint. This commonly follows an injury and can affect the knee, ankle, hip, shoulder, and elbow joints.

Repeated injury or overuse – particularly activities involving the end of two bones in a joint to repeatedly be jammed together and damaged – may also cause osteochondritis dissecans.

Symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans joint pain

Osteochondritis dissecans may not cause symptoms if the piece of cartilage or bone is only fractured and does not move from its original position. However, fractures or the cartilage or bone becoming separated can cause:

  • Pain, especially with activity
  • Swelling in the affected joint
  • Joint weakness or instability
  • Stiffness after inactivity
  • Inability to fully extend the arm or leg

The joint may retain excess fluid, and if the piece of cartilage or bone becomes lodged in the joint space, the joint may begin sticking or locking and produce a clicking or grating sound. Additionally, arthritis can develop at the point of injury, which can contribute to pain in the joint.

See an orthopedic doctor if you experience persistent pain, swelling or inability to move the joint.

Treatment of osteochondritis dissecans joint pain

If the affected segment of bone remains attached in position (a fracture), rest and over-the-counter pain medications may be the only treatment necessary to heal an osteochondritis dissecans injury.

The joint should be braced during activities, although sports activities should generally be avoided for up to eight weeks while the injury heals. Physical therapy may be recommended to slowly increase range of motion in the joint following injury, as well as strengthen the muscles that support the joint.

However, if the separated piece of cartilage and bone becomes detached, surgery may be necessary to repair the injury or remove fragments from the moving parts of the joint.

If you are experience pain and symptoms of Osteochondritis dissecans, contact us to request an appointment with one of our orthopedists in the San Francisco east bay area.