Osteonecrosis is bone death caused by poor blood supply. It is most common in the hip and shoulder, but can affect other large joints such as the knee, elbow, wrist and ankle.
Avascular necrosis; Bone infarction; Ischemic bone necrosis; AVN; Aseptic necrosis
Osteonecrosis occurs when part of the bone does not get blood and dies. After a while the bone can collapse. If osteonecrosis is not treated, the joint deteriorates, leading to severe arthritis.
Osteonecrosis can be caused by disease, or a severe trauma, such as a fracture or dislocation, that affects the blood supply to the bone. Osteonecrosis can also occur without trauma or disease. This is called idiopathic -- meaning it occurs without any known cause.
If your health care provider knows the cause for osteonecrosis, part of the treatment will be aimed at the underlying condition. For example, if a blood clotting disorder is the cause, treatment will consist, in part, of clot-dissolving medicine.
If the condition is caught early, you will take pain relievers and limit use of the affected area. This may include using crutches if your hip, knee, or ankle is affected. You may need to do range-of-motion exercises. Nonsurgical treatment can often slow the progression of osteonecrosis, but most people will need surgery.
The outcome can vary from complete healing to permanent damage in the affected bone.
Advanced osteonecrosis can lead to osteoarthritis and permanent decreased mobility. Severe cases may require joint replacement.
When to contact a medical professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms.
Many cases of osteonecrosis do not have a known cause, so prevention may not be possible. In some cases, you can reduce your risk by doing the following:
Avoid drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.
When possible, avoid high doses and long-term use of corticosteroids.
Dive safely to avoid decompression sickness.
Chang C, Greenspan A, Gershwin ME. Osteonecrosis. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al., eds. Kelly’s Textbook of Rheumotology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 103.
Whyte MP. Osteonecrosis, osteosclerosis/hyperstosis, and other disorders of the bone. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 256.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.