Understanding Osteonecrosis

What is osteonecrosis (ON)?

Osteonecrosis is a disease that results from a loss of blood supply to the bone. Without adequate blood flow, sections of bone eventually die, weaken, and collapse. Medical experience has shown that wherever osteonecrosis causes bone to degrade in a joint, arthritis develops.

Who does ON affect?

Each year between 10,000 and 20,000 men and women develop osteonecrosis. Although ON can affect anyone at any age, most people who develop ON are between 30 and 50 years old. Orthopaedic surgeons have found that in as many as ten percent of all people requiring hip replacement, osteonecrosis has led to their joint damage.

To date, we know that you may be at an increased risk for developing ON if you’ve dislocated or fractured a hip, suffer with alcoholism, use corticosteroids, or have any number of glandular diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Gaucher’s disease, chronic pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease or lupus.

What are the symptoms of ON?

Patients with early stage osteonecrosis may not have any symptoms. Later symptoms include pain, diminished range of motion and the development of osteoarthritis. Osteonecrosis progresses differently in each person affected by it, however, the time between feeling the first symptoms of joint pain and losing joint function is usually anywhere from a few months to over a year.

How is ON treated?

Your doctor may recommend different treatment options depending on the severity of your ON and its impact on your joint(s) and your body as a whole.

Manage the pain and preserve your joint.

Your doctor’s priorities will include alleviating your pain, improving your function, preventing further joint damage and saving as much of your natural bone as possible. To accomplish this, you may be treated with very specific medications in order to slow the progression of the disease, joint deformity, and loss of function.

Get the right support.

Your doctor may recommend that you reduce weight bearing on the affected joint. This may mean that you’ll be asked to use a crutch or limit your activities to permit your joint to heal while you’re under treatment. Your doctor may also recommend some range-of-motion exercises, or even prescribe a course of physical therapy. Some studies have shown that electrical stimulation (a painless, non-invasive therapy) may promote healthy new bone growth.

Understand your surgical options.

If you are still experiencing pain and joint damage that affects your quality of life even after all other conservative measures have been taken, your doctor may suggest surgery to help relieve your pain and restore your mobility. Today, a full range of surgical solutions exist that enable your doctor to customize surgical procedures to your particular needs and anatomy, whether you need core decompression, osteotomy (re-shaping the bone), bone grafting (which may help your body create healthy new blood vessels and bone cells) or arthroplasty (replacing the affected joint).

For people diagnosed with osteonecrosis, treatment and medical management of the disease may continue throughout their lifetime. Dr. Larson can help determine the the best treatment option for you. Schedule your appointment with him by calling 435-774-8512.