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Young pitcher throwing a baseball

Joint Pain May Signal Osteochondritis Dissecans

By: Charlie Wise, MS, ATC

No matter how much we try to protect our children, sports injuries happen. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to detect an injury early – before it requires serious treatment, such as surgery.

Too often, children are unaware they have a joint injury. They will keep playing until more serious damage is done.

If your young athlete complains about joint pain, talk to your pediatrician. Some kids who play sports develop a condition called osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). It happens when bone underneath a joint’s cartilage dies from a lack of blood flow. As a result, bone and cartilage can break loose.

Fortunately, rest and avoiding vigorous activity can alleviate pain and swelling and allow the body to heal on its own. Some children may need to temporarily use crutches or a cast. Surgery may be necessary, in some cases, when nonsurgical treatments don’t work.

The three joints most commonly affected are the elbow, knee, and ankle.

  • Children with OCD of the elbow will usually have a history of overuse, commonly from throwing or gymnastics. They may feel pain along the outside of the elbow. Pain often increases with activity. They may also complain of popping, clicking, or their elbow suddenly “giving out”. You may notice your child has swelling and decreased range of motion.
  • If a child has OCD of the knee, they’ll often have more localized pain that increases with activity. In advanced cases, they may complain of locking or catching of the knee. Other symptoms range from joint swelling and tenderness to walking with a limp and decreased size and strength of thigh muscles.
  • Similar to the elbow and knee, OCD of the ankle may cause locking, catching, tenderness, and intermittent swelling. Children usually complain of chronic, persistent pain that worsens when they put weight on their ankle.

While it’s uncertain how to prevent OCD injuries, early diagnosis and treatment can keep the condition from worsening.

Remember, every child is different when it comes to experiencing pain. Some kids will let you know about every bruise and scratch. Others won’t complain at all. As a parent, it’s up to you to make sure your child receives medical treatment when it’s needed.

At CHKD, our sports medicine team provides specialized care and services to handle all of your young athlete’s needs. For more information on the services we offer, visit or call 757-668-7529 (PLAY) to schedule an appointment.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.