Osteochondrosis or Epiphysitis

Osteochondrosis is a self-limiting developmental derangement of normal bone growth that primarily involves the centers of ossification in the epiphysis.

It is a kind of an aseptic ischemic necrosis in a previously normal epiphysis though the role of ischemia is not clearly proved yet.

As the research on osteochondrosis is gathering more data, few of the osteochosndroses are being labeled as phenomenon rather than disease or syndrome.

Classification of Osteochondrosis

Modren classification system was proposed by Siffer.

It divides the osteochondroses into articular, nonarticular, and physeal types.

Articular osteochondrosis

  •  Primary involvement of the articular and epiphyseal cartilage– Freiberg disease
  •  Secondary involvement of the articular and epiphyseal– Perthes disease, Köhler disease [The primary pathology is ischemic necrosis of the bone]

Nonarticular osteochondrosis

• Tendinous attachments – Osgood-Schlatter syndrome, Monde-Felix disease
• Ligamentous attachments – Vertebral ring
• Impact sites – Sever disease

Physeal osteochondrosis

• Long bones – Tibia vara (Blount disease)
• Scheuermann disease

Pathophysiology of Osteochondrosis

A primary vascular event or trauma have been thought to result in ischemia of the ossification center. Social deprivation, dietary deficiency, and passive exposure to smoke have been implicated as causes.

Most osteochondroses occur shortly after the bony nucleus appears, around the middle of the growth spurt

Clinical Presentation and Diagnosis of Osteochondrosis

Pain that is localized to the affected site is usual presentation in the initial stages. On examination localized swelling, tenderness, limited movement of nearby joint may be noted. Lower limb involvement may show gait problems.

Growth disturbance and secondary deformities may occur in late stages.


Laboratory findings are mostly normal.


Xrays in early stage show Early involvement typically results in a epiphysis of reduced size, increased opacity, and irregular architecture.
With advancement, fibrillation and fissures in the cartilage enlarge.

Revascularization phase results in osteoporosis, absorption of necrotic tissue, and deformation. Incomplete restoration of the blood supply and poor protection can lead to misshaped epiphysis.

Joint arthrosis is a late complication in cases of poor restoration.


MRI can pick up the disease at asymptomatic stage and before xray changes. Early MRIs show focal hyperintensities in the epiphysis or neighboring soft tissues indicating edema. Marrow edema in the parent bone is also seen. Peripheral irregularity can be visualized.

Bone Scintigraphy

Bone scintigraphy is again a very sensitive and specific test which can pick up the problem before symptoms. By showing absence of tracer uptake representing low metabolic activity, and blood flow.

In restoration stage, the scan shows increased flow or activity at the margin of the hypoactive, necrotic and neighboring physis and metaphysic.

A normal distribution marks the complete healing.

Bone scan is able to indicate the phase of disease as well and thus can be used as prognostic marker.


Most of the cases of osteochondrosis have a self limiting course. Medical and supportive therapy constitute the mainstay of treatment.

The goal is to obtain a congruous, mobile, and painless joint.

Surgery is indicated only in cases where conservative therapy has failed when it would help to reduce late disability.

Medical Treatment

  • Rest to joint, ice application and analgesics to prevent further trauma
  • Traction, immobilization by plaster or brace, assisted weight bearing and physiotherapy to prevent secondary deformity and to reduce mechanical stress across the joint.

Surgical Treatment

Surgical treatment is usually undertaken when conservative methods are not effective. Surgery is also used when it may help restore the reparative process or way as to improve outcome over conservative means.

Arthroscopic procedures may be done to facilitate regeneration by microfracture technique or to pin or fix a salvageable fragment. Oseotomy is done to correct the deformity.

Salvage surgeries and reconstructive procedures are done in to improve situations in cases with poor outcomes. These may include arthrodesis, arthroplasty or bone lengthering procedures where required.

The surgery needs to be individualized.


Because osteochondrosis is a self-limiting disorder, the outcome is usually good.

A List of Eponyms of Osteochondrosis



Carpal scaphoid Preiser disease
Lunate Kienböck disease
Medial cuneiform Buschke disease
Patella Köhler disease
Talus Mouchet disease
Tarsal scaphoid Köhler disease
Vertebral body Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease
Vertebral epiphysis Scheuermann kyphosis
Iliac crest Buchman disease
Symphysis pubis Pierson disease
Ischiopubic junction Van Neck disease or phenomenon
Ischial tuberosity Valtancoli disease
Calcaneal apophysis Sever disease or phenomenon
Accessory tarsal navicular or os tibiale externum Haglund disease
Second metatarsal Freiberg disease
Fifth metatarsal base Iselin disease
Talus Diaz disease
Distal tibial epiphysis Lewin disease
Proximal tibial epiphysis Blount disease
Tuberosity of the tibia Osgood-Schlatter disease
Secondary patellar center Sinding-Larsen-Johansson syndrome
Lesser trochanter of the femur Monde-Felix disease
Greater trochanter of the femur Mandl or Buchman disease
Capital epiphysis of the femur Legg-Calve-Perthes disease
Phalanges Thiemann syndrome
Metacarpal heads Mauclaire disease
Proximal epiphysis of the radius Schaefer disease
Distal epiphysis of the ulna Burns disease
Medial humeral condyle Froelich disease
Lateral humeral condyle Froelich disease
Capitellum of the humerus Panner disease
Humeral head Hass disease
Clavicle Friedrich disease

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