Key Points about Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Elbow

  • If the bone fragment becomes loose and gets caught in the joint, you may need surgical intervention to treat osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow.
  • Surgery might be necessary if the fragment comes loose and gets caught between the moving parts of your joint or if you have persistent pain.

Overview

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow occurs when the blood supply to the elbow joint is restricted or cut off, which causes the bone under the cartilage to die. The dead bone may break off, causing pain and limited joint motion.

While the exact cause of osteochondritis is unknown, research indicates it may be due to repetitive trauma to the bones and cartilage in the affected area.

Children and adolescents are more likely to develop Osteochondritis dissecans effects than adults or infants.

Your doctor will stage Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow based on the size of the injury, whether the bone fragment is partially or wholly detached or whether the bone fragment stays in place.

If you or your child's bone fragment stays in place, and symptoms are mild, you may not need treatment.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow causes

The exact cause of osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow is unknown. Research indicates that it occurs when the blood flow to the affected bone is restricted or cut off from repetitive trauma to the elbow.

Some people may also be more likely to develop osteochondritis dissecans in the elbow if they have a family history of the condition.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow symptoms

The most common symptom of osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow is pain. Typically, the pain occurs when you or your child participate in activities such as walking up the stairs or participating in a sport.

Other common symptoms of osteochondritis include:

  • Swelling.
  • Tenderness.
  • Popping or locking in the joint.
  • Weakness in the joint.
  • Limited range of motion.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow complications

Osteochondritis dissecans can eventually lead to osteoarthritis of the elbow.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow risk factors

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow is most common in adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18.

People who participate in sports such as baseball or gymnastics are also more likely to develop osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow prevention

To prevent osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow, it is important to make sure your child learns proper techniques and mechanics in their sport, wears proper protective gear, participates in strength training, and avoids repetitive injury to the elbow.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow. During a clinic visit, your doctor will examine the affected joint and surrounding ligaments, looking for swelling and tenderness. Your doctor will also move your elbow to determine if your range of motion has been affected.

Your doctor will also likely order diagnostic imaging tests such as:

  • X-rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow treatment

Your doctor will develop a treatment plan that is customized to your case. The goal of treatment is to restore elbow joint motion and reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis later in life.

Treatments for osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow include:

  • Rest the elbow.
  • Wear a splint to immobilize the joint.
  • Cortisone injection.
  • Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen the joint.

Surgery may be necessary if:

  • Conservative treatments have not helped relieve your symptoms after six months.
  • The affected bone fragment is still present when bones stop growing.
  • There is a loose fragment in the elbow joint.

Your doctor will review the types of surgery and recommend the most appropriate one for your case. The type of surgery recommended will depend on how mature you or your child’s bones are, as well as the size and stage of your injury.

When to Seek Care

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you have ongoing pain or soreness in your elbow, elbow joint swelling, or inability to move the elbow joint fully.

Next Steps

Before your clinic visit, take notes on your symptoms, when they started, and what makes them worse. Also, write down any questions you have for your doctor.

If diagnosed with osteochondritis dissecans, follow your doctor’s treatment plan carefully. If your symptoms worsen, call your doctor right away.

If you had surgery, you will wear an arm brace for a few weeks after surgery. When the brace is removed, patients will start a customized physical therapy program to restore joint function. In most cases, patients fully recover after a few months of physical therapy.