How Long Until a Chipped Bone on the Knee From Playing Football Heals?

Physiotherapist doing leg massage to his patient
A physical therapist treats a young man's knee as he lays back on an examination table. (Image: Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images)

Football is a high-impact sport that can take its toll on your body. Sprinting, sudden starts and stops and direct collisions can lead to injuries of the knees. Chipped bones in your knee often result from a previous injury that causes bone or cartilage pieces to chip off. This condition is known as osteochondritis dissecans, and it should be treated by a physician to promote proper healing. A chipped bone in the knee can take weeks or months to heal, according to Cedars Sinai Orthopaedic Center.

Osteochondritis Dissescans

Osteochondritis dissecans occurs most often in young men, especially those who have sustained prior joint injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic. When pieces of bone or cartilage chip from the knee, the fragment may become jammed between the moving portions of your knee joint. This can lead to pain, especially during sports and star climbing. If you have osteochondritis dissecans, you also might notice joint locking or popping as you move. Your knee joint may feel weak, have a limited range of motion or appear swollen and tender. Some individuals with this condition may never experience symptoms.

Diagnosis

If you experience persistent knee pain, see a physician and discontinue football until he says otherwise. the doctor will perform a physical examination and review your medical history. Your doctor might take X-rays of your knee to rule out other conditions. Further imaging studies, such as CT scans or MRIs, may provide a more detailed view of your knee joint to help your doctor determine where chipped bone is present and what he needs to do to treat your condition.

Treatment

The goal of treatment of osteochondritis dissecans is to restore normal function of your knee and to reduce pain. Docs generally try conservative measures first to relieve your pain. Your doctor may recommend avoiding high-impact physical activities such as football and participation in low-impact exercise, such as swimming or using an elliptical machine. You may also be required to use crutches to allow your knee to rest. Physical therapy might help increase strength and range of motion in your knee joint. If conservative treatment fails, surgery might be necessary to remove bone chips.

Recovery Time

The recovery time for treatment for osteochondritis dissecans largely depends on the type of treatment used. Cedars Sinai Orthopaedic Center indicates that competitive sports and physical activities should be avoided for six to eight weeks. During this time, a knee brace or crutches may be used. If after three to six months of conservative treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery may be performed by completely opening the knee or with arthroscopic surgery. The recovery time for arthroscopic surgery tends to be shorter than having opened knee surgery. Only your doctor can provide you with an exact recovery time from surgery based on the severity of your condition and how well your body handles surgery and rehabilitation.

Returning to Football

Your return to football largely depends on your pain level, as well as the type of treatment you received. Ultimately, you and your doctor will make the decision. You should not return to football until you have regained strength in your knee and are able to run and spring without limping. Your knee should not be swollen or tender. You should be able to jump without pain, cut back and forth on the football field and run figure-eights without experiencing pain.

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