Radiology plays an important role in the diagnosis and evaluation of osteochondritis dissecans. Common radiology tests doctors may use include fluoroscopy, MRI, CT scans, and X-rays.

Osteochondritis dissecans occurs when a portion of the bone and its overlying cartilage loosen away from the rest of the joint surface. This can result from injury to the bone, causing part of it to die.

While this condition does present some hallmark symptoms, doctors do not rely solely on physical exams alone for diagnostic and treatment purposes.

Radiology tests can enable doctors to determine the severity of the damage, which will impact treatment.

Read on to find out more about the role of radiology tests in diagnosing osteochondritis dissecans. This article discusses the types of radiology tests, what the tests involve, how to prepare, and more.

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Doctors rely on several types of radiology exams to aid in diagnosing and treating osteochondritis dissecans


Doctors may use X-rays as the initial radiology imaging exam for this condition. This imaging exam can give a clearer picture of any irregularities in the relevant joint. This may include loose bone fragments or a gap between the fragment and the underlying bone.

The X-ray may also show:

  • defects in the joint surface
  • cysts
  • osteolysis, which is decreased density of the bone
  • osteoarthritis

Learn more about X-rays.


MRI is another initial radiology exam that aids in the diagnosis process. Since it provides even more detailed images for the doctor to evaluate than an X-ray, they typically use it to confirm the diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan.

This test helps determine the stage of the condition since it reveals the lesion’s shape, size, and location. It can also show whether there is any swelling in the bone or if there is any fluid tracking underneath the cartilage.

Learn more about MRI.

CT scan

CT scans further evaluate osteochondritis dissecans. This exam provides detailed 3D images of the joint.

The scan can help to show sclerotic bone regions, which is an increased density of the bone. It can also show the extent of avascular necrosis, or reduction of blood to the bone.

Learn more about CT scans.


This radiology exam utilizes X-rays but can capture real-time moving images of the joint. This may help doctors initially assess the alignment of the joint.

Doctors may also use fluoroscopy during surgery to help guide treatment.

A doctor may recommend certain radiology tests if a person shows signs and symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans.

Some of the signs can be vague and mirror the symptoms of other conditions. However, some hallmark symptoms start to show up as the condition progresses. They can include:

Radiology tests can help a doctor to rule out other possible causes of these symptoms.

Learn more about the symptoms of osteochondritis dissecans.

A person may receive an initial X-ray in an orthopedic surgeon’s office. Further imaging tests usually take place in a diagnostic imaging center or a radiology department at a hospital or clinic. A radiologist will carry out the tests.

Learn about what radiologists do.

Depending on the type of exam, a person may not need to do anything specific to prepare for radiology tests.

It is best to wear clothing that is easy to remove, making it easier to put on the medical gown.

The doctor will notify the person about when they can eat or drink beforehand. They will also advise on whether a person can continue to take their medication.

A person may wish to contact their doctor before the test to ask any questions that they have. This can reassure them about what to expect during the test and put their mind at ease.

What a radiology test can show varies based on the level of detail it reveals. By utilizing more than one imaging exam for osteochondritis dissecans, doctors can determine the following:

  • the exact location and size of the lesion
  • whether the cartilage or joint surface has collapsed
  • the extent of the present damage, such as the size of the gap between the bone and cartilage
  • where to drill during the surgical process
  • the healing process

With this information, the doctor can recommend the most suitable treatment plan.

A person may need radiology tests at the time of diagnosis. A doctor may also recommend additional radiology tests to monitor how the treatment is working. A person’s doctor will be able to advise on how frequently they may need radiology tests for monitoring.

Here are some more frequently asked questions about osteochondritis dissecans.

What is the radiographic appearance of osteochondritis dissecans?

On radiographs, osteochondritis dissecans can appear as a lesion or defect in the affected bone. The lesion may appear as a loose or detached piece of bone and cartilage within the joint. It may also appear as a hole within the bone.

What is osteochondritis dissecans of the patella in radiology?

Osteochondritis dissecans of the patella in radiology refers to using imaging techniques, such as X-rays or MRI scans, to diagnose and evaluate the condition. It helps doctors see any damage or separation of the bone and cartilage in the patella, which is the kneecap area.

What is stage 4 osteochondritis dissecans?

Stage 4 osteochondritis dissecans is the most severe stage of the condition, where a piece of bone and cartilage becomes wholly separated from the joint surface. It causes significant pain and joint instability and may require surgical intervention. This can include total joint replacement.

Where is osteochondritis dissecans most commonly found?

It most commonly occurs in the knees, elbows, and ankles. It usually only affects the joint on one side of the body, but it may affect both sides.

Radiology tests play an essential role in diagnosing and treating osteochondritis dissecans, a condition that occurs in joints such as the knees.

Doctors may recommend radiology tests if a person shows signs of joint swelling, tenderness, stiffness, or instability. The radiology tests include X-rays, fluoroscopy, MRI scans, and CT scans.

These tests provide detailed images of the joint, helping doctors determine the severity of the damage and plan the best treatment.