What is osteochondritis dissecans?

Osteochondritis dissecans is a joint disorder in which a loose piece of bone and cartilage separates from the end of the bone because of a loss of blood supply. The loose piece may stay in place or fall into the joint space, making the joint unstable. This causes pain and a sense that the joint is “catching” or “giving way.” These loose pieces are sometimes called “joint mice.”

Osteochondritis dissecans often occurs from repetitive motions that stress the joint. It affects both boys and girls, but is more common in boys 10 to 20 years old. It most often affects the knee (high-impact landings) and elbow (pitching and throwing).

Children with osteochondritis dissecans should be seen by a doctor right away. Without treatment, a loosened fragment of bone and cartilage may drift into the joint, causing it to slip, pop or lock. If this happens, the joint can get “stuck,” often at a 45-degree angle, until it’s moved manually or otherwise manipulated.

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Care for osteochondritis dissecans

The Boston Children’s Hospital Orthopedic Center provides comprehensive assessment, treatment and follow-up care to children, adolescents and young adults with osteochondritis dissecans.

With a goal of dramatically reducing overuse injuries like osteochondritis dissecans, members of our team often travel to local and regional schools, youth groups and sports clubs to teach leg strengthening and other techniques. We also conduct frequent safe-training programs and clinics for coaches.

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