Osteochondritis dissecans

Osteochondritis dissecans (os-tee-o-kon-DRY-tis DIS-uh-kanz) is a joint condition in which a piece of cartilage, along with a thin layer of the bone beneath it, comes loose from the end of a bone.

Osteochondritis dissecans occurs most often in young men, particularly after an injury to a joint. Osteochondritis dissecans is most common in the knee. But, osteochondritis dissecans can occur in other joints.

If the loosened piece of cartilage and bone stays close to where it detached, you may have few or no symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans, and the fracture may heal by itself. Surgical repair may be necessary if the fragment comes loose and gets caught between the moving parts of your joint, or if you have persistent pain.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans may include:

  • Pain. The most common symptom of osteochondritis dissecans, pain may be triggered by physical activity — walking up stairs, climbing a hill or playing sports.
  • Joint popping or locking. Your joint may pop or get stuck in one position if a loose fragment gets caught between bones during movement.
  • Joint weakness. You may feel that your joint is "giving way" or weakening.
  • Decreased range of motion. You may be unable to straighten your leg or arm completely.
  • Swelling and tenderness. The skin around your joint may become swollen and tender.

When to see a doctor

If you have persistent pain or soreness in your knee, elbow or another joint, see your doctor. Other signs and symptoms that should prompt a call or visit to your doctor include joint swelling or an inability to move a joint through its full range of motion.

The exact cause of osteochondritis dissecans is unknown. It may be caused by a reduction of blood flow to the end of the affected bone. This may occur from repetitive trauma — small, multiple episodes of minor unrecognized injury that damage the end of the affected bone. There may also be a genetic component involved, making some people more inclined to develop the disorder.

  • Age. Osteochondritis dissecans occurs most often in people between the ages of 10 and 20, with the average age around 11.
  • Sex. Males are more likely to develop osteochondritis dissecans than are females.
  • Sports participation. Sports that involve jumping, throwing and rapid changes in direction may increase your risk of osteochondritis dissecans.
  • Osteochondritis dissecans can increase your risk of eventually developing osteoarthritis in that joint.

    Adolescents participating in organized sports may benefit from education on the risks to their joints associated with overuse. Learning the proper mechanics and techniques of their sport and participating in strength training and stability training exercises may help reduce the chance of injury.

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