Osteochondritis dissecans occurs when a fragment of cartilage and underlying bone detach from the joint surface. When it affects the ankle, it can cause stiffness, pain, swelling, and reduced range of motion.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle is a condition that can cause the cartilage and talus bone to detach from the surface of the ankle joint. The talus bone is a small, irregularly shaped bone that sits between the shinbone and the calcaneus, which is the largest bone in the foot.

Read on to find out more about osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle. This article includes information about symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.

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In the early stages, osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle may not cause any symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, they can include:

  • pain, especially during weight-bearing or movement
  • swelling and tenderness around the ankle
  • limited range of motion
  • locking sensation in the joint
  • a loose fragment causing joint catching or instability

Symptoms may increase when a person does certain physical activities, such as climbing stairs.

Learn more about osteochondritis dissecans.

Osteochondritis dissecans occurs when a lack of blood flow causes a small piece of bone and the cartilage that surrounds it to begin loosening away from the surrounding area.

While the exact cause of osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle is unclear, the following factors may contribute to its development:

  • repetitive trauma or stress to the ankle joint
  • poor blood supply to the affected area
  • genetic predisposition

The development of osteochondritis dissecans in the ankle and elbow is more closely linked to physical trauma than osteochondritis dissecans of the knee. In the ankle, a physical injury is likely to be the root cause if the damage is near the outer edge of the ankle.

However, injury is less likely to be the cause if the damage occurs more toward the center of the ankle.

Doctors typically diagnose this condition by starting off with a physical exam. The doctor may examine the ankle and note any signs of swelling and tenderness.

They may ask questions about a person’s symptoms and take a full medical history. They may also ask questions about recent activities and any potential injuries.

To confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes, they may order tests such as an X-ray and MRI.

Initially, doctors may recommend rest to heal osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle. This is because the condition can resolve on its way, particularly in children and young teenagers.

However, if the ankle is not showing any signs of healing or is healing at a slow pace, they may recommend:

  • crutches to reduce weight bearing
  • splints to immobilize the joint
  • physical therapy

It typically takes around 2–4 months for osteochondritis dissecans to heal without surgery. If a doctor believes that surgery is the best treatment for the individual, there are various procedures that they recommend. They include the following:

  • Arthroscopic debridement: Using a minimally invasive method called arthroscopy, arthroscopic debridement is a surgical procedure during which the surgeon removes damaged or loose tissue from the affected joint.
  • Bone marrow stimulation: To facilitate the healing of damaged cartilage, bone marrow stimulation is a surgical technique that involves making small holes or channels in the underlying bone. This process encourages the formation of new blood vessels and the migration of bone marrow cells to the injured area.
  • Drilling: This surgical technique involves creating small holes in the nearby bone of the affected area. These holes promote blood circulation, stimulate the generation of new tissue, and foster the healing of damaged cartilage.

A person’s doctor will be able to advise on when they feel surgery is necessary and what the procedure will involve.

It is best for a person to contact their doctor if they experience prolonged or recurring pain or swelling in the ankle. The doctor will be able to order tests to help determine the cause of the symptoms and advise on suitable treatments.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the ankle is a condition where cartilage and bone detach from the joint surface, causing symptoms like pain, swelling, and limited joint movement.

Doctors may diagnose the condition through physical exams and imaging tests. Treatment options include rest, physical therapy, and in some cases, surgery.

It is best to contact a doctor if a person experiences persistent or frequent pain, swelling, or difficulty walking. A physical examination and tests can help confirm the diagnosis. The individual can then work with their doctor to come up with the most suitable treatment plan.