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Osteochondritis Dissecans: Locked-Up Joints

Imagine trying to open or close a lid on a box if something is blocking the hinge. You might be able to get it open with some effort, but the damage can sharply limit that hinge’s usefulness. Now imaging trying to run or jump if your ankle seems to get “stuck” so that it can’t bend or straighten all the way. The effect is the same—your ankle isn’t useful anymore. Instead, it limits you. That is the problem with an injury called osteochondritis dissecans.

What Is It, Anyway?

Osteochondritis dissecans is a joint problem that causes swelling, aching, and even popping or locking in a joint, usually your ankle. Typically this happens after something damages the protective tissues in the joint. Between all moving bones, you have soft tissues designed to help each part glide effortlessly. This includes a smooth cartilage cap on the ends of the bones. Occasionally a small section of cartilage will lose its blood supply and begin to peel away from the underlying bone. This lesion often breaks off a bit of bone with it as it separates, too.

The damaged patch can then do a couple of things. It can stay in position, potentially re-healing in the right place without complications. However, it can also pull loose and become lodged in the joint space between the bones. This can impair normal movement, causing the joint to get stuck or lock in place when you try to use it.

Either way, osteochondritis dissecans causes you pain, particularly when you’re active. Almost any moving joint can develop the problem, but your ankle is the most likely victim in your lower limbs. The area around the ankle may swell and feel tender to the touch. You may find it to be weaker than normal, too, seeming to “give out” under pressure. Usually the joint grows stiff and loses some of its range of motion. The worse the problem gets, the more likely your ankle will catch and lock when you try to move it.

How Did I Get It?

No one is quite sure what causes a patch of your cartilage to separate. However, it does seem to be connected to joint trauma. Hard impacts can damage this protective cap. The condition usually affects young athletes who are involved in lots of high-impact sports and subject their lower limbs to excessive or repetitive pounding. Currently, it’s believed that an injury to the joint cuts off the blood flow to part of the cartilage, causing the condition to develop.

Can It Be Treated?

Like any other injury to your ankle or other joints in your lower limbs, failing to treat it correctly or quickly can lead to complications. In particular, you risk developing arthritis. However, with a little care, the osteochondritis dissecans lesion usually heals well. This is particularly true in children or teens who develop the problem. Dr. Noah Levine will need to examine the limb to rule out other injuries and accurately diagnose the problem. Then he can create a plan to help you eliminate the discomfort.

Resting your joint will be key. Stressing the bones only makes the injury worse. This means taking a break from your hard-impact activities so you don’t continue to aggravate the problem. In some cases, you may need to wear a brace to stabilize the ankle and limit movement. As you heal, you’ll need physical therapy to restore any lost range of motion. If conservative measures are not enough to eliminate pain, or the loose fragments have fallen down into the joint and are restricting motion, you might need surgery to correct the problem.

Your joints are essential for your independence. A painful, impaired ankle can sharply restrict your mobility. You don’t have to let pain force you to give up your active life, however. Let Absolute Foot Care Specialists in Las Vegas take care of your lower limb joints. Call (702) 839-2010 to make an appointment with us. You can also use our web request form to reach us.