Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Knee

Osteochondritis dissecans is a joint condition where the bone underneath the cartilage dies because of a lack of blood flow. A small segment of bone starts to separate from the surrounding region as the result of a lack of blood supply. Then, a small piece of the bone and the cartilage that covers it may begin to crack and loosen. This may lead to pain and limited joint motion.



Osteochondritis dissecans of the knee occurs most often in children and adolescents. Symptoms may appear after an injury to a joint or after long periods of activity. High-impact activities like running and jumping over a period of time can affect the joint. 

There are different stages of osteochondritis dissecans, based on the size of the injury, if the fragment is partially or completely detached, and if the fragment stays in place. 

Someone might not experience any symptoms if the loosened cartilage stays in place. For young children, this injury might actually heal itself since their bones are still developing. For others, surgery may be needed if the fragment comes loose and gets caught between the parts of your joint that move or if you have persistent pain.


Osteochondritis Dissecans Causes 

The exact cause of this condition is unfortunately unknown. One theory is that the reduced blood flow to the affected bone could be the result of repeated trauma. Another theory is that there may be a genetic component that makes some people more susceptible to the condition.

Repeated stress and trauma to the knees is the reason why children and adolescents between 10-20 years old that are very active in sports are most likely to develop osteochondritis dissecans.


Osteochondritis Dissecans Symptoms

Pain is the most common symptom you may experience, typically triggered by physical activity. Walking up stairs, climbing up a hill, or playing running or jumping sports may trigger the pain. Also, the skin around your knee might become visibly swollen and tender to the touch. If a fragment gets caught between your bones, you might notice popping or locking in the joint. You could also notice that your knee feels like it is weakening or giving way. Finally, your range of motion with the knee could be limited, making it difficult or even impossible to straighten the leg.


Osteochondritis Dissecans Treatment 

The goal of treatment for osteochondritis dissecans is to restore the normal function of the affected joint and relieve pain. In addition, the joints affected by this condition become more likely to develop osteoarthritis in the future, so treatment is used to reduce this risk. Unfortunately, there isn’t one treatment that works for everybody. The best treatment will depend on each person’s situation.

Treatment typically begins with recommendations for conservative measures like simple rest and physical therapy. It is typical for children to feel better after about 2 to 4 months of rest and conservative treatment. Avoiding activities that place stress on the joint like running and jumping may be recommended. It may also be recommended that you wear a splint or brace to immobilize the joint for a while. Physical therapy regimens include stretching, range of motion exercises, and strengthening exercises for the supporting muscles. Even in people who undergo surgery, physical therapy is generally recommended afterwards. 

Surgery is often recommended if you meet a few criteria. If you have a loose fragment in the joint, if the area is still present after the bones have stopped growing, or if conservative treatments don’t help after a period of time. The specific type of surgery needed will depend on the size and stage of the injury as well as the maturity of your bones.


Repairing Osteochondritis Dissecans at OAR

If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans of the knee, contact the team at OAR. We will be able to diagnose your condition following an exam and other tests. After that, the best course of action will be decided based on the severity of your situation.

Contact us today!