PT eDigest

owThe Broken Bone You Never Knew You Had

Considering that most patients with osteochondritis dissecans are adolescent boys, the explanation of the condition is sure to win points for sheer gross-out potential. Characterized by pain, limited range of motion, and a popping or locking sound in the joint, osteochondritis dissecans occurs when a small piece of cartilage breaks off from the end of a bone, along with a sliver of the bone itself. Sometimes, this stray piece of bone does not cause any real symptoms, and the fracture may heal itself before it is even noticed. However, when symptoms do arise, they wipe out any coolness factor osteochondritis dissecans may have.

Since osteochondritis dissecans typically affects the knee (although it can occur in any joint), joint stiffness and discomfort can lead to decreased activity and may necessitate the use of crutches. If the broken-off cartilage becomes trapped between a joint, or if the fracture begins to cause persistent pain or decreased motion, surgery may be necessary.

No one really knows what causes this condition, but it is thought to be provoked by reduced blood flow to the end of a bone. This can be caused by repetitive trauma from improper form in certain sports, or it may be the fault of a genetic predisposition.

Your physician will usually diagnose osteochondritis dissecans by performing a physical examination, along with imaging studies such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). Depending on the size of the fracture and its location, your physician will determine whether you need surgery or if nonsurgical treatment will be enough. Such treatment usually includes

  • mandatory resting of the knee joint
  • a therapy program incorporating gentle range-of-motion, joint mobilization, balancing and strengthening exercises
  • the use of ice, electrical stimulation and other modalities to reduce pain and inflammation

If surgery is needed, a longer, more intensive version of these therapeutic techniques will help get you on your feet as soon as possible. And the sooner you are back in action, the sooner you can brag about the broken bone that was floating around in your body.

Download the PTedigest for April 2014