Osteochondritis dissecans is an idiopathic lesion of subchondral bone.
Majority of patients are adolescent or young adult athletes. Main joints involved include the knee, ankle, and radiocapitellar joint of the elbow. Bilateral in up to 25%.
Variable presentation: traumatic or atraumatic, insidious onset, non-specific joint pain, exacerbation of symptoms with exercise (especially stair- or hill-climbing), recurrent effusion, catching, or locking.
Radiographs: minimum of two views of the involved joint (more specified for knee and ankle) performed for diagnosis.
While the aetiology remains unclear, early recognition is essential as many treatment options exist.
Osteochondritis dissecans is an acquired, potentially reversible idiopathic lesion of subchondral bone resulting in delamination and sequestration with or without articular cartilage involvement and instability. It is increasingly seen as the cause of joint pain in adolescent and young adult athletes, thought to be due to earlier and higher-demand participation in competitive sport. However, no clear evidence is available to support this belief, and despite much speculation the cause of both juvenile and adult osteochondritis dissecans remains unclear.
History and exam
Key diagnostic factors
- presence of risk factors
- pain is exacerbated by activity
- location of pain anteromedial aspect of the knee with the knee flexed to 90º
- location of pain lateral aspect of elbow
- location of pain posteromedial aspect of dorsiflexed ankle or anterolateral aspect of plantar-flexed ankle
- effusion present
- locking of joint
- catching of joint
- decreased range of motion
Other diagnostic factors
- knee involvement, age 10 to 20 years
- elbow involvement, age 11 to 21 years
- talus involvement, second to fourth decade
- absence of history of trauma involving the knee or elbow
- antalgic gait in osteochondritis dissecans involving the knee or talus
- external rotation gait in osteochondritis dissecans involving the knee
- relieving factors: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), rest, ice, elevation
- Wilson's test
- quadriceps atrophy
- repetitive throwing/valgus stress
- gymnastics/weight-bearing on upper extremity
- ankle sprain/instability
- competitive athletics
- family history
1st investigations to order
- knee x-rays
- ankle x-rays
- full-length lower extremity film
- elbow x-rays
Investigations to consider
- MR arthrogram
- diagnostic arthroscopy
Henry G. Chambers, MD
Professor of Clinical Orthopedic Surgery
University of California, San Diego
Rady Children’s Hospital
HGC is an author of a number of references cited in this topic.
Dr Henry G. Chambers would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr James L. Carey, Dr Jon Divine, Dr Michael Nett, and Dr Cedric Ortiguera, the previous contributors to this topic.
JLC is an author of a number of references cited in this topic. JD, MN, and CO declared that they had no competing interests.
James E. McGrory, MD
The Hughston Clinic PC
JEM declares that he has no competing interests.
Nicola Maffulli, MD, MS, PhD, FRCS(Orth)
Centre Lead and Professor of Sports and Exercise Medicine
Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon
Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry
Institute for Health Sciences Education
Centre for Sports and Exercise Medicine
Queen Mary University of London
Mile End Hospital
NM declares that he has no competing interests.
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