This painful condition occurs when the blood supply to the elbow joint is cut off, causing bone and cartilage death. Treatments may include rest, splinting, pain relief, and physical therapy. Surgery may also be needed.

Osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow is a condition caused by a restriction in blood supply to your elbow joint. As a result, bone and cartilage pieces break off and can cause pain, swelling, and difficulty moving your elbow.

It’s more common in children and teens and is often seen in kids who participate in sports like baseball and gymnastics. It might be connected to repetitive stress injuries.

Treatment for osteochondritis dissecans often involves rest, splinting, and physical therapy. If the breakage is severe, or if other treatments haven’t helped after about 6 months, surgery might be needed.

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) of the elbow is a condition that occurs when the blood supply to your elbow joint is cut off or restricted.

When this happens, the bone and cartilage cannot receive blood, causing them to die. They can break away, leading to pain and loss of full joint motion. The breakage can be a minor fracture or a serious break that causes bone pieces to fully detach from the joint.

Children and teens are more likely to develop OCD of the elbow than adults.

Since this condition typically happens to very active teens and children, the injury is sometimes thought to be the result of a repetitive stress injury from sports that frequently engage the elbow joint, like:

  • softball
  • baseball
  • gymnastics
  • weightlifting
  • tennis
  • basketball
  • crew
  • cheerleading
  • volleyball

But OCD of the elbow also seems to run in families, so it’s possible there’s a genetic link.

Additionally, this condition is more common in people who already experience arm bone abnormalities.

The most common symptom of OCD of the elbow is pain. It might be most noticeable when the elbow is engaged and while participating in sports and other activities. Beyond pain, other symptoms might include:

  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • weakness
  • limited range of motion
  • difficulty straightening the arm
  • joint popping or locking

Over time, untreated OCD of the elbow can lead to arthritis.

Treatment for OCD in the elbow depends on the severity of the condition. To determine the severity, diagnostic testing will be needed.

This will include a physical exam to test for pain, swelling, and range of motion and imaging testing like:

Once the extent of the damage is known, your doctor can plan treatment. This might include:

  • rest for OCD of the elbow that’s minor and can resolve on its own
  • a splint to immobilize the joint and prevent further damage
  • physical therapy to strengthen the joint and restore mobility
  • surgery for serious OCD of the elbow breakages that include loose bone fragments in the elbow joint or bone fragments after bones stop growing, or for OCD of the elbow that’s still causing pain after 6 months of other treatments.

Surgery typically involves removing any remaining loose fragments and replacing damaged bone and cartilage with cartilage from somewhere else in your body.

Your recovery timeline will depend on the extent of your injury.

Some OCD-related fractures are minor and heal quickly, but others require surgery and a longer recovery timeline.

But even mild OCD typically takes a few months to fully recover from. If surgery is needed, it can take about 6 months to return to sports and other activities. Returning to activity too soon, especially sports, can risk re-injury and permanent damage.

As long as OCD of the elbow heals completely, there’s typically no permanent damage to the elbow joint.

OCD of the elbow is a painful condition that occurs when bones and cartilage in your elbow joint don’t get enough blood. This causes bone death and breakage. As the pieces break off, they can cause pain, swelling, and loss of motion. It’s not clear what causes OCD of the elbow.

The condition runs in some families, so it might be genetic. But it’s also common in children and teens who participate in sports like basketball and gymnastics, which means it could be linked to repetitive stress injuries.

No matter the cause, OCD of the elbow can often be treated with simple steps like rest, splinting, cortisone shots, and physical therapy. But if the break is severe, or if there’s still pain after 6 months, surgery might be the best option.