Arthritis After Injury or Surgery

Osteoarthritis refers to erosion of cartilage in a joint that results in chronic, painful swelling. Osteoarthritis (OA) may affect any joint. Severity may range from bothersome to debilitating. There is currently no cure for OA – conversely, it often gets worse over time. Approximately 12% of OA cases are the result of post-traumatic arthritis.

Post-traumatic arthritis is the result of a trauma to a bone, joint, or the cartilage. While most people associate trauma with an injury, surgeries on bones or joints also cause trauma to the body. These traumas change the mechanics of the body, in many cases causing the cartilage in the joint to wear out more quickly. If the trauma is not properly treated, continuing injury may exacerbate the condition. Symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis may include:

  • Joint Pain

  • Swelling

  • Accumulation of fluid in and around the joint

  • Decreased tolerance for activities that place strain on the joint – e.g. walking, climbing stairs, lifting

Post-traumatic arthritis can only be diagnosed by a physician. Your doctor will likely start by taking a history of symptoms, injuries, and surgeries, then perform a physical examination. If these initial investigations give your doctor cause for concern, she may decide to order one or more imaging procedures, such as X-Rays, an MRI, or a CT scan. Post-traumatic arthritis has no cure at this time, but there are treatment methods that may slow the progression of the disorder and may even reduce symptoms. Common forms of treatment include physical therapy or home exercises designed to maintain flexibility in the joint and strengthen the surrounding muscles. The most commonly recommended medications for reducing pain and swelling are Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), such as over-the-counter ibuprofen or naproxen or prescription Lodine (etodolac) or Celebrex (celecoxib). Cortisone or Hylamers, which temporarily function as an artificial joint lubricant, may be injected into the affected joint for further pain relief in some situations. None of these treatments are capable of curing post-traumatic arthritis, but may make the condition more bearable. If the arthritis progresses beyond these methods’ capability of providing relief, surgery may be an option. Surgical treatments of post-traumatic arthritis may include debriding (“cleaning out”) the joint, reconstructing the joint, or replacing the surfaces of the affected joint. These surgical options may provide lasting relief.


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