Treatment Strategies and Outcomes for Osteochondritis Dissecans of the Capitellum

Am J Sports Med. 2021 Dec;49(14):4018-4029. doi: 10.1177/03635465211000763. Epub 2021 Apr 22.


Background: The optimum management of osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) of the capitellum is a widely debated subject.

Purpose: To better understand the efficacy of different surgical modalities and nonoperative treatment of OCD as assessed by radiological and clinical outcomes and return to sports.

Study design: Systematic review; Level of evidence, 4.

Methods: A systematic review of all treatment studies published between January 1975 and June 2020 was performed following the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. A total of 76 clinical studies, including 1463 patients, were suitable for inclusion. Aggregate analysis and subgroup analysis of individual patient data were performed to compare the functional and radiographic outcomes between the various nonoperative and surgical treatment options for capitellar OCD. A unified grading system (UGS; grades 1-4) was developed from existing validated classification systems to allow a comparison of patients with similar-grade OCD lesions in different studies according to their treatment. Patient-level data were available for 352 patients. The primary outcome measures of interest were patient-reported functional outcome, range of motion (ROM), and return to sports after treatment. The influences of the capitellar physeal status, location of the lesion, and type of sports participation were also assessed. Each outcome measure was evaluated according to the grade of OCD and treatment method (debridement/microfracture, fragment fixation, osteochondral autograft transplantation [OATS], or nonoperative treatment).

Results: No studies reported elbow scores or ROM for nonoperatively treated patients. All surgical modalities resulted in significantly increased postoperative ROM and elbow scores for stable (UGS grades 1 and 2) and unstable lesions (UGS grades 3 and 4). There was no significant difference in the magnitude of improvement or overall scores according to the type of surgery for stable or unstable lesions. Return to sports was superior with nonoperative treatment for stable lesions, whereas surgical treatment was superior for unstable lesions. Patients with an open capitellar physis had superior ROM for stable and unstable lesions, but there was no correlation with lesion location and the outcomes of OATS versus fragment fixation for high-grade lesions.

Conclusion: Nonoperative treatment was similar in outcomes to surgical treatment for low-grade lesions, whereas surgical treatment was superior for higher grade lesions. There is currently insufficient evidence to support complex reconstructive techniques for high-grade lesions compared with microfracture/debridement alone.

Keywords: capitellum; elbow; microfracture; osteochondral autograft transplantation system; osteochondritis dissecans.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Bone Transplantation
  • Elbow Joint* / diagnostic imaging
  • Elbow Joint* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans* / diagnostic imaging
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans* / surgery
  • Range of Motion, Articular
  • Transplantation, Autologous
  • Treatment Outcome