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Avascular Necrosis — A Lesser-Known Cause of Joint Pain

Avascular Necrosis — A Lesser-Known Cause of Joint Pain

Avascular necrosis (AVN) is a serious medical problem that happens when a lack of blood supply causes bone cells to die. Also called osteonecrosis, avascular necrosis affects about 15,000 Americans every year

While nearly any bone can be affected, AVN usually affects the ends of long bones that make up the joints, including the upper leg bone or femur. In fact, about 10% of hip replacement surgeries are due to AVN involving the femur.

Thomas Powell, MD, of Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, is an expert in managing AVN. He uses state-of-the-art treatments, including joint replacement surgery, to relieve symptoms and prevent further tissue death. In this post, Dr. Powell offers an overview of AVN, so you can seek treatment as early as possible.

Quick facts about avascular necrosis

Like every other part of your body, your bones depend on a regular supply of oxygen-rich blood to stay healthy and strong. If that blood supply is disrupted or limited, bone cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die off. 

Over time, the lack of oxygen and nutrients can cause an affected bone to weaken and eventually collapse. Not surprisingly, this process causes a significant amount of pain that tends to become worse over time.

Avascular necrosis can occur for different reasons. Some people develop AVN after a traumatic injury, such as a fall, a car accident, or a sports injury. Long-term use of corticosteroids or other medications can also play a role, and so can excessive alcohol consumption and some underlying diseases. Sometimes, the cause of AVN is unclear (idiopathic).

In addition to ongoing and worsening joint pain, AVN may cause pain in surrounding areas as well. If AVN affects your hip joint, you might have stiffness, reduced range of motion, or limping.

Treating avascular necrosis

Once Dr. Powell confirms the diagnosis of AVN with X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), he prescribes treatment based on the severity of the disease, your symptoms, your lifestyle, and other factors. 

Milder cases of AVN may respond well to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines and resting the joint. If your hip is affected, Dr. Powell might recommend a cane or crutches to reduce strain on the joint.

Physical therapy is another potential treatment for mild to moderate AVN. During therapy, you’ll focus on exercises to help relieve inflammation while strengthening the surrounding muscles to relieve joint strain.

Severe AVN typically requires surgical intervention. While some surgeries may help promote blood flow to the area or replace damaged bone with grafts, many patients require joint replacement surgery to remove the dead bone tissue and restore joint function.

Get help for joint pain

It might be tempting to write off your joint pain as “a normal part of getting older.” But joint pain is never normal, and if it persists or gets worse, it could be a sign of a serious medical problem, such as AVN. Early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent further damage and help you stay mobile and active.

If you have chronic joint pain, don’t ignore it. Call 205-606-5232 or request an appointment online with Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine today.

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