Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Humeral Trochlea: Characterization of a Rare Disorder Based on 28 Cases

Am J Sports Med. 2019 Jul;47(9):2167-2173. doi: 10.1177/0363546519855036. Epub 2019 Jun 24.


Background: Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) of the humeral trochlea is very rare. It may cause pain, mechanical symptoms, and loss of elbow motion, typically in the adolescent athlete. However, little published information is available regarding this condition.

Purpose: To describe the clinical presentation, radiographic features, and prognosis of trochlear OCD.

Study design: Case series; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: Over a 10-year period, 28 patients presented to a tertiary pediatric hospital with trochlear OCD. Medical records and imaging were analyzed to characterize presentation, lesions appearances, and outcomes.

Results: Mean ± SD age at presentation was 13.4 ± 1.6 years, and 13 of the 28 patients were male. The most common presenting symptom was pain (93%), followed by crepitus (54%). Evidence of trochlear OCD could be seen on initial radiographs in 94% of cases but was commonly missed. Coexisting capitellar OCD lesions were the most common associated abnormalities seen on magnetic resonance imaging (21%). Investigators noted 2 predominant patterns: "typical" trochlear OCD lesions (89%) were located on the lateral crista of the trochlea, 3.1 ± 4.4 mm lateral to the apex of the trochlear groove. This location corresponded to the medial tip of the capitellar epiphyseal ossification center and was not actually on the trochlear ossification center. "Atypical" trochlear OCD lesions (11%) were located more posteromedially. Trochlear OCD lesions in 4 elbows were managed surgically, while the remainder were managed nonoperatively. At mean ± SD follow-up of 13 ± 8 months, 12 patients (43%) were asymptomatic. A further 5 patients had ongoing crepitus but no pain (18%), and 4 patients (14%) underwent surgical treatment for their trochlear OCD (osteochondral fixation, n = 1; drilling/curettage, n = 3); 3 of the 4 patients experienced some improvement in pain.

Conclusion: Although rare, trochlear OCD can cause considerable elbow problems. Clinicians should be aware of this differential diagnosis. Plain radiographs should be carefully scrutinized for subtle signs of trochlear OCD, particularly in the repetitive or overhead athlete with elbow pain. Although most patients' symptoms will improve with activity modification, some may require surgery.

Keywords: humeral trochlea; ossification centers; osteochondritis dissecans; overhead athletes.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Arthralgia / etiology
  • Athletes
  • Cartilage, Articular / surgery
  • Child
  • Elbow Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Elbow Joint / surgery
  • Epiphyses / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Humerus / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humerus / surgery
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans / diagnostic imaging*
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans / surgery
  • Pain / etiology
  • Radiography
  • Retrospective Studies