Juvenile osteochondritis is a condition mainly affecting children 10–15 years old who are physically active. It causes symptoms like pain, swelling, and reduced mobility. Most children recover well after a period of resting and limiting activities.

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Juvenile osteochondritis is a condition affecting the joints and its main symptoms include pain and lack of joint mobility. The knees are the most common joints affected, but juvenile osteochondritis can also affect the elbows and ankles.

The condition is more common in adults than children. When it affects children, it’s called juvenile osteochondritis and typically affects children between the ages of 10 and 15 years. Treatment usually involves limiting activity for a period of time and physical therapy, but less commonly, treatment may include surgery.

If your child is diagnosed with juvenile osteochondritis, you likely have many questions and concerns. Read on for what parents need to know about juvenile osteochondritis, including symptoms, causes, treatment, and what the outlook is for children diagnosed with this condition.

Juvenile osteochondritis is a condition where a small piece of bone becomes separated from the rest of the bone at the joints. Most cases of juvenile osteochondritis involve the knee, but the ankle, elbow, shoulder, and hip can also be affected. Juvenile osteochondritis is most likely to affect children because their growth plates haven’t yet closed.

It’s not entirely clear how many children are affected by the condition, but it’s been estimated that 15–29 children out of every 100,000 have the condition. It’s more likely to affect children who are physically active, such as in organized sports.

Symptoms vary from one child to another, and some children may not have symptoms at all. Symptoms are often worse while the child exercises or is active. Some of the common symptoms of juvenile osteochondritis include:

  • pain and swelling at the joint
  • tenderness when touched
  • lack of joint mobility
  • “locking” of the joint
  • a cracking sound during movement

The exact cause of juvenile osteochondritis is not known. But researchers have proposed a few possible causes, including:

  • repetitive trauma to the joint
  • inflammation
  • genetic propensity or family history
  • decreased blood flow to the joint
  • abnormal bone ossification (bone formation)

Children who play sports, especially highly competitive sports, are at greatest risk of developing juvenile osteochondritis. Sports that involve weight bearing, repetitive throwing, or gymnastics also increase risk. Male children are more likely to experience juvenile osteochondritis than female children.

Besides the immediate complications such as pain, swelling, lack of mobility, and the need to refrain from physical activity for a period of time, children whose juvenile osteochondritis is not properly treated may be more likely to experience early-onset osteoarthritis.

Treatment for juvenile osteochondritis varies depending on the child’s age and how severe their condition is. The gold standard treatment for juvenile osteochondritis is “conservative management.” This involves:

  • limiting activities, including any sports or weight-bearing activities
  • use of a brace on the joint
  • physical therapy
  • rest

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), about two-thirds of adolescents with juvenile osteochondritis do well with conservative management and heal well. The rest may need further intervention, including surgery. Surgery is successful about 90% of the time and involves a shorter recovery time, as per the AAP.

The majority of children with juvenile osteochondritis do well. This is especially true of younger children who are still growing. Older children and adults typically have more trouble healing on their own and may need interventions like surgery.

Usually, children are given a course of conservative management treatments, such as limited activity, rest, and use of a brace for 3 months or so. Surgery may be necessary if the child’s condition doesn’t improve.

Most children visit their pediatrician with complaints of joint pain, swelling, and limited mobility. In order to diagnose juvenile osteochondritis, a pediatrician will likely examine the affected joint or joints and assess areas of tenderness, along with the joint’s range of motion.

If your pediatrician suspects juvenile osteochondritis, they will need to confirm it by using diagnostic imagery to visualize the inside of the joint. The following imaging techniques are used to diagnose juvenile osteochondritis:

How does juvenile osteochondritis affect girls vs. boys?

When boys get juvenile osteochondritis, it’s more likely to happen in their knees or elbows, whereas girls are more likely to experience it in their ankles.

Do young children get juvenile osteochondritis?

It’s rare that a child under the age of 10 will get juvenile osteochondritis. Likewise, osteochondritis rarely affects adults over the age of 50.

Does juvenile osteochondritis affect more than one joint?

Juvenile osteochondritis usually affects one joint, but it affects more than one joint about 25% of the time.

Juvenile osteochondritis is a joint condition that mainly affects tweens and teens between the ages of 10 and 15. Although it can cause pain, discomfort, and restrict activities, it isn’t life threatening. Most children recover with simple treatments like rest, the use of a brace, and limiting activities until healing takes place.

If you have any further questions or concerns about juvenile osteochondritis, please reach out to your child’s pediatrician or healthcare professional.