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What is Osteochondritis Dissecans?

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  • Written By: Madeleine A.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2016
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Osteochondritis dissecans is a condition in which blood supply is cut off to the end of a bone, resulting in fragmentation of bone and cartilage in the joint. Most commonly, the knee is affected, but osteochondritis dissecans may occur in the elbow, ankle or hip as well. Typically, the osteochondritis dissecans patient is an older child or teenager. Young adults who actively participate in sports are also at risk for this condition. If early detection and treatment is not sought, long-term and permanent disability may result.

Generally, the symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans may include pain and locking of the affected joint. In addition, joint swelling and tenderness may be present, as well as decreased range of motion. Sometimes, if the condition affects the knee, limping and giving way of the joint may be noticed. Most often, however, pain during physical activity is present, especially when climbing stairs or walking on an incline.

Typically, the causes of osteochondritis dissecans include injury or trauma to the joint, or over use. Usually, when blood supply is impaired, it is frequently because small vessels are blocked, and this can, over time, cause necrosis or death to the bone. Genetic predisposition can also plays a role in osteochondritis dissecans.

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There are certain risk factors that can contribute to the development of osteochondritis dissecans. These risk factors may include repetitive movements that cause substantial impact on the joints, such as jumping; these movements exert stress on the joints, which can lead to diminished blood supply to the bone. Other risk factors may include being young and participating in sports, such as gymnastics, tennis and basketball. Sports that involve pivoting and jumping are often contributors to this condition as well.

Osteochondritis is increasingly more common in women. The reason for this phenomenon is that they are participating more frequently in organized sports. Young adults are encouraged to seek medical attention if they experience persistent pain in a joint. Generally, any joint swelling or inability to extend the leg or arm fully should receive a prompt medical evaluation.

Diagnosis of this condition usually involves the physician taking a detailed medical and social history. Important information such as sports and exercise history should be given to the doctor as well. Other diagnostic tools may include joint x-rays and CT scans. Sometimes, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and bone scans may be utilized to determine bone and joint anomalies.

Treatments for osteochondritis dissecans generally include resting the joint and anti-inflammatory medications. Joint immobilization with a brace and physical therapy are frequently included in the plan of care to restore mobility and strengthen surrounding muscles. Sometimes, when the patient does not respond favorably to non-surgical treatment methods, surgical procedures, such as arthroscopy, can be utilized to treat the condition.

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