When Joint Pain Attacks Young Athletes
We often regard joint pain as something reserved for the elderly – an unavoidable part of getting older. Unfortunately this is not true, and children who are actively involved in sports can develop joint pain. Sports that involve a lot of jumping, running, and quick movements can put a lot of stress on joints. One particular condition that can develop is osteochondritis dissecans (OCD).
Who is at risk and how does osteochondritis occur?
This condition can affect anyone, but is most common among athletic males from 10-20 years old. Sports are a big risk factor in developing osteochondritis, especially those that involve frequent direction changes, throwing, jumping, and running. Typical sports include football, gymnastics and soccer. It most commonly affects the knee but can also occur in other joints such as the ankle and the elbow.
Osteochondritis generally occurs because of repetitive trauma that damages the end of a bone. Symptoms begin to develop when a small amount of cartilage, and possibly a small amount of bone, separates from the end of the affected bone due to lack of blood supply. This loose piece can stay in place or it can move into the joint, causing instability.
What are the symptoms of osteochondritis?
Children and young adults are often tough and can play through pain when they are committed to their sport. This condition can resemble other joint injuries so it is important to have even the smallest of symptoms diagnosed so proper treatment can be applied.
The most common symptom is pain, often coming on in the middle of activity, whether during a sports game or just walking up the stairs at home. Walking, running, or going up and incline will often trigger pain and tenderness in the joint. A patient may also experience joint weakness, a popping or locking sensation within the joint, swelling, tenderness, and decreased range of motion.
How is osteochondritis treated?
To diagnose this condition we will perform a physical exam and take an X-ray or do an ultrasound exam or MRI if necessary. In many cases, this condition heals well on its own. Initially, we will begin with the RICE form of treatment, starting with a period of rest from activities that could further aggravate the joint. Icing can reduce swelling and inflammation. Laser treatments can be very beneficial in speeding the recovery and decreasing pain. Physical therapy is often beneficial for strengthening the joint and improving range of motion. If these fail to improve a patient’s symptoms, it may be due to a loose fragment that has shifted into the joint. Surgery may be necessary in this case to remove loose fragments of cartilage and bone and stimulate new blood vessels so the defect can be filled with new scar tissue.
If you have an active child, this problem is definitely preventable. Proper equipment, good conditioning, and taking care of pain as soon as it arises can ensure that joints stay strong and healthy. Whether you have a sports enthusiast in your family or you are an athlete yourself, osteochondritis does not have to be inevitable. Contact Dr. Harvey Danciger for more information or if you need to have joint pain diagnosed and treated. Call our office in Palm Desert, CA at (760) 568-0108 or request an appointment online.