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Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

What is osteochondritis dissecans?

Every joint in the body contains cartilage, which helps our joints move and protects our bones. Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) happens when blood flow to that cartilage gets interrupted, causing the bone to soften. If left untreated, osteochondritis dissecans can damage the cartilage in the joint, and loose pieces of bone and cartilage may even break off into the joint. In the long term, untreated osteochondritis dissecans can also lead to arthritis. Osteochondritis dissecans most commonly affects the knee, ankle and elbow.

What causes osteochondritis dissecans?

No one knows exactly what causes osteochondritis dissecans, but it has been linked to acute, long-term or overuse injuries. Sometimes, an acute injury can also cause osteochondral fracture (when a piece of bone and joint cartilage breaks off into the joint) or chondral injury (when the cartilage within the joint is injured but not the bone). While osteochondritis dissecans can start with an acute injury, it can be present for months or years before any symptoms are felt.

What are the symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans?

Osteochondritis dissecans may not produce any symptoms for months or years. Symptoms can include:

  • Joint pain, which usually gets worse with increased activity
  • Joint swelling
  • Clicking and popping sensations in the joint

Symptoms may start after a small injury that seemed to get better on its own.

What kinds of treatments are available for osteochondritis dissecans?

Treatment options for osteochondritis dissecans vary for each patient but can include non-surgical options like resting from running and jumping, crutches, bracing or casting, or surgery. Doctors at the Stanford Children’s Health Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center have years of experience working with kids, teens and young adults. They ensure that young patients’ growing bones and growth plates are considered in every treatment decision to give patients the foundation for a healthy, active life. Kevin Shea, MD, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Stanford Children’s Health, has published multiple studies on the most effective treatments for osteochondritis dissecans. He is also one of the founders of the Research on Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Knee (ROCK) study group, which brings together doctors and researchers from around the world to improve our understanding of how to diagnose and treat osteochondritis dissecans.

Our patients also benefit from seamless access to the physical and occupational therapists, athletic trainers, and movement specialists at the Motion and Sports Performance Laboratory, who come together to help patients recover quickly and safely so they can return to sports and play.

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