Understanding Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

By: Dr. Kevin McIntyre B.Kin., DC

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) is a perplexing and relatively rare joint disorder that affects both children and adults, with a predilection for adolescents. This condition is characterized by the detachment of a portion of the joint’s cartilage and underlying bone, leading to pain, inflammation, and potentially impaired joint function. While the exact cause of OCD remains elusive, its impact on individuals’ quality of life and the challenges in diagnosis and management underscore the importance of understanding this enigmatic ailment.


The etiology of osteochondritis dissecans is multifactorial, involving a complex interplay of genetic, biomechanical, and vascular factors. Genetic predisposition may contribute to an individual’s susceptibility, while repetitive trauma or abnormal joint loading can initiate the pathological process. Insufficient blood supply to the affected area is also believed to play a pivotal role, leading to impaired healing and degeneration of the cartilage and underlying bone. The knee and ankle are the most common areas, and those affected are usually between 11 to 20 years of age. Patients often present with joint pain, swelling, and a reduced range of motion. The condition may progress to joint instability and, in severe cases, result in the formation of loose bodies within the joint space. The clinical presentation can vary widely, making diagnosis challenging, particularly in the early stages.


Accurate and timely diagnosis of osteochondritis dissecans is crucial for effective management. Diagnostic tools include a thorough clinical examination, imaging studies such as X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and, in some cases, arthroscopy for a direct visualization of the joint’s interior. The combination of these modalities helps in determining the severity of the lesion, its stability, and the appropriate course of action.


The management of OCD is tailored to the individual’s age, the affected joint, and the stage of the disease. Conservative approaches, such as rest, physical therapy, and activity modification, are often the initial strategies, especially for stable lesions in pediatric patients. For more advanced cases or those resistant to conservative measures, surgical intervention may be necessary. Arthroscopic procedures, including drilling, microfracture, or fixation of the detached fragment, aim to promote healing and prevent long-term joint damage.


Osteochondritis dissecans poses several challenges in both its diagnosis and management. The condition’s variable presentation and the absence of clear predisposing factors make early detection elusive. Moreover, treatment outcomes can be unpredictable, with some patients experiencing complete resolution while others may face persistent symptoms or long-term joint complications.

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If you have unrelenting and persistent knee or ankle pain, give Burlington Sports Therapy a call. We can help. Although osteochondritis dissecans is relatively rare when compared to other common causes of knee and ankle pain, early detection is key. In cases that aren’t improving the way a more common injury might be expected to, osteochondritis dissecans should be kept as a diagnostic consideration.