Osteochondritis dissecans

Last updated: December 21, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Osteochondritis dissecans (OD) is a focal aseptic necrosis of subchondral bone in which a bone-cartilage fragment detaches and becomes displaced in the joint space. School-aged children and adolescents are most commonly affected. OD occurs as a result of overuse or trauma, and 75% of cases affect the knee. Symptoms include pain and joint locking or catching. X-ray is the best initial test for suspected OD, but MRI is better able to detect early disease. First-line treatment includes reducing physical activity. Surgery is indicated if the bone-cartilage fragment is completely displaced and includes arthroscopic extraction, open fixation, and transplantation procedures.

Definitiontoggle arrow icon

  • Osteochondritis: painful inflammation of the cartilage and/or bone
  • Osteochondritis dissecans: focal, aseptic necrosis of subchondral bone caused by mechanical stress and/or repetitive trauma

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon

The etiology is unknown. Proposed theories include mechanical stress and repetitive trauma.

Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Repeated trauma to area of subchondral hypovascularity region of osteonecrosis insufficient revascularization of necrotic bone → progressive subchondral bone lesion → partial or total detachment (“dissection”) of the subchondral bone and intraarticular cartilage fragment

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Patients typically retain the full range of motion in the affected joint.

OD may be difficult to differentiate from osteonecrosis, but young patients are much more likely to have OD.

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

  • X-ray
    • Initial test
    • May be normal in early stages
    • More advanced lesions appear as a subchondral bony fragment surrounded by radiolucency.
  • MRI
    • Used for early diagnosis in patients with persistent symptoms and normal x-rays and for precise staging
    • May show articular cartilage thickening or partial detachment in early stages

Osteochondritis dissecans is a radiographic diagnosis.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

  • Conservative therapy: first-line treatment
  • Surgical therapy
    • Indications
      • Children with completely detached and displaced intra-articular fragments
      • Children who have not responded to 4–6 months of conservative therapy
      • Most adult patients with OD, although conservative therapy can be attempted for small or stable lesions
    • Methods
      • Arthroscopic extraction of the intra-articular loose fragment
      • Other options depend on the stage and size of lesion, as well as skeletal maturity.

Complicationstoggle arrow icon

  • Most patients, especially children without a loose body, heal completely without complications.
  • Arthritis
  • Chronic pain
  • Mechanical symptoms

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Kessler JI, Nikizad H, Shea KG, Jacobs JC Jr, Bebchuk JD, Weiss JM. The demographics and epidemiology of osteochondritis dissecans of the knee in children and adolescents.. Am J Sports Med. 2014; 42 (2): p.320-6.doi: 10.1177/0363546513510390 . | Open in Read by QxMD

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