Your normally active child climbs a flight of stairs or walks outside to get the newspaper and returns complaining of ankle pain. He says it feels as if the joint is “popping.” These may be symptoms of osteochondritis, a joint condition we see at Long Island Foot & Ankle Group, PC, which more commonly affects children than adults.
What is It?
With osteochondritis a lesion forms in the joint where the ends of two bones meet. Usually it is caused by a piece of cartilage that has come loose from the end of one of the bones. It can be the result of an injury or by repeated stress or trauma to the bone, usually from overuse in a sport activity. The detached piece of cartilage impedes the ability of the two bones to move smoothly against each other.
Symptoms and Treatment
Common symptoms of osteochondritis include pain, stiffness and swelling around the ankle joint. Your child may also say that it feels like the joint is locking up or that the ankle joint feels weak and like it might give way. All of these are possible because the floating piece of cartilage can move and get stuck between the bones. The ankle may be tender to the touch and your child may not be able to fully extend or move the ankle normally. Symptoms are often most noticeable after activity. Younger children who are not able to articulate their symptoms well may just seem disinterested in physical activity or say their “feet are tired.”
As with all foot or ankle pain in children it’s important to take the complaint seriously and seek treatment promptly. Our podiatrists, Dr. Russell Caprioli, Dr. Mary Ann Bilotti, Dr. John Haight or Dr. Marzana Mleczko, will examine your child’s foot and ankle and ask questions about when symptoms are most severe. The foot doctor will also likely order and x-ray, MRI or CT scan to confirm a diagnosis of osteochondritis.
Although in most cases, the lesion will heal on its own as your child continues to grow, treatment is necessary to reduce symptoms and protect the health of the ankle joint. The foot doctor will usually recommend that your child avoid activities that put a stress on the ankle. Crutches or a brace may be used to keep weight off the affected foot. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to help maintain flexibility and increase range of motion. Surgery to reattach or remove the cartilage is a last resort if all else fails.