Thumbnail image of: Bone Chips in the Elbow (Osteochondritis Dissecans): Illustration

Bone Chips in the Elbow (Osteochondritis Dissecans)

What are bone chips in the elbow?

Bone chips in the elbow are small pieces of bone or cartilage that have come loose and float around in the elbow joint. Cartilage is the tissue that lines and cushions the surface of the joints. The pieces of bone and cartilage usually come from the upper arm bone.

The medical term for this condition is osteochondritis dissecans of the elbow.

What is the cause?

The chips usually result from an injury to the elbow or from a lack of blood supply to the bone. Gymnasts and athletes who throw a lot during their sport may also get bone chips in the elbow.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Your elbow hurts when you move it. Sometimes you may not be able to move it because it has locked in place.
  • You may hear a clicking sound when you move your elbow.
  • You may feel something inside the joint.
  • Your elbow may be swollen and you may not be able to straighten your arm completely.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history. Tests may include:

  • X-rays of your elbow
  • MRI, which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to show detailed pictures of the elbow

How is it treated?

You will need to rest your elbow and avoid activities that cause pain until the symptoms are gone. This may take 6 to 12 weeks.

Sometimes surgery is needed to remove large fragments and repair the joint surface.

How can I take care of myself?

To keep swelling down and help relieve pain:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the painful area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take this medicine for more than 10 days.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent bone chips in the elbow?

Bone chips are usually caused by injuries to the elbow that are not easily prevented.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-01
Last reviewed: 2014-01-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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