Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®

, Volume 471, Issue 4, pp 1127–1136 | Cite as

Osteochondritis Dissecans Knee Histology Studies Have Variable Findings and Theories of Etiology

  • Kevin G. Shea
  • John C. JacobsJr
  • James L. Carey
  • Allen F. Anderson
  • Julia T. Oxford
Symposium: Osteochondritis Dissecans



Although many etiological theories have been proposed for osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), its etiology remains unclear. Histological analysis of the articular cartilage and subchondral bone tissues of OCD lesions can provide useful information about the cellular changes and progression of OCD. Previous research is predominantly comprised of retrospective clinical studies from which limited conclusions can be drawn.


The purposes of this study were threefold: (1) Is osteonecrosis a consistent finding in OCD biopsy specimens? (2) Is normal articular cartilage a consistent finding in OCD biopsy specimens? (3) Do histological studies propose an etiology for OCD based on the tissue findings?


We searched the PubMed, Embase, and CINAHL databases for studies that conducted histological analyses of OCD lesions of the knee and identified 1560 articles. Of these, 11 met our inclusion criteria: a study of OCD lesions about the knee, published in the English language, and performed a histological analysis of subchondral bone and articular cartilage. These 11 studies were assessed for an etiology proposed in the study based on the study findings.


Seven of 11 studies reported subchondral bone necrosis. Four studies reported normal articular cartilage, two studies reported degenerated or irregular articular cartilage, and five studies found a combination of normal and degenerated or irregular articular cartilage. Five studies proposed trauma or repetitive stress and two studies proposed poor blood supply as possible etiologies.


We found limited research on histological analysis of OCD lesions of the knee. Future studies with consistent methodology are necessary to draw major conclusions about the histology and progression of OCD lesions. Inconsistent histologic findings have resulted in a lack of consensus regarding the presence of osteonecrosis, whether the necrosis is primary or secondary, the association of cartilage degeneration, and the etiology of OCD. Such studies could use a standardized grading system to allow better comparison of findings.



We thank Dr Eric Wall, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, for his substantial contributions to this review. We also thank Mary McFarland, Information & Technology Consultant, Eccles Health Sciences Library, University of Utah School of Medicine, for consultation in the search strategy.


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Copyright information

© The Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons® 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin G. Shea
    • 2
    • 3
  • John C. JacobsJr
    • 1
  • James L. Carey
    • 4
  • Allen F. Anderson
    • 5
  • Julia T. Oxford
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.St Luke’s Health SystemBoiseUSA
  2. 2.St Luke’s Sports MedicineSt Luke’s Children’s HospitalBoiseUSA
  3. 3.Department of OrthopedicsUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  4. 4.Department of OrthopaedicsUniversity of Pennsylvania School of MedicinePhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.Tennessee Orthopaedic AllianceNashvilleUSA
  6. 6.Department of Biological SciencesBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA
  7. 7.Biomolecular Research CenterBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA

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