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Post-traumatic Arthritis

What is Post-traumatic Arthritis?

Post-traumatic arthritis is a type of arthritis that occurs following a physical injury or severe trauma to a joint. Arthritis is the inflammation of a joint that causes pain, swelling, inflammation, and stiffness. The joints are lined by soft articular cartilage that cushions the joints and aids in smooth movement of the joint bones. Degeneration of cartilage due to wear and tear leads to arthritis.

Anatomy of the Joint

A joint is an articulation (junction) between 2 or more bones in the body. The two articulating bone surfaces are covered by smooth tissue called articular cartilage, a firm but flexible connective tissue that allows the bones to slide over each other smoothly and without friction, and absorb shock during movement. The cartilage is lubricated with synovial fluid, a thick liquid within the joint space which further enables smooth movement.

Causes of Post-traumatic Arthritis

Some causes of post-traumatic arthritis include:

  • Sports injury
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Fall from a height
  • War injury
  • Work-related injury

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis include:

  • Joint swelling, redness, and warmth
  • Osteophytes (bone spurs)
  • Tenderness on palpation of the joints
  • Pain in the joints with motion and vigorous activity
  • Accumulation of synovial fluid in the joints
  • Decreased weight-bearing ability of the joints
  • Decreased range of motion of the joints due to stiffness
  • Grinding sensation or popping/cracking sound on bending or extending the joint
  • Difficulty in activities such as walking or climbing stairs

Diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Your doctor will assess your symptoms, take your medical history, and perform a thorough physical examination of your joints to assess range of motion, stability, and strength.

In order to obtain further information your doctor may order diagnostic tests such as:

  • X-ray: This study uses high electromagnetic energy beams that produce images of the bones.
  • MRI Scan: This study produces images that help in detecting damage to soft tissues using large magnetic fields and radio waves.
  • T Scan: Uses special X rays that produce clear images of the internal hard and soft tissue structures of the body

Treatment for Post-Traumatic Arthritis

The treatment options for post-traumatic arthritis include nonsurgical and surgical methods. Your doctor will determine the right option for you based on the severity of the condition.

Nonsurgical Treatment

  • Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that trigger symptoms and changing one’s lifestyle
  • Ice: Application of ice packs on the joints to decrease swelling and pain
  • Physical Therapy: A regular exercise regimen to improve range of motion and strengthen the joint muscles
  • Medications: Use of pain-relievers and anti-inflammatory medications, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, as needed
  • Orthotics: Use of assistive devices such as splints and braces to avoid mechanical stresses on the joints
  • Cortisone Injections: Injection of corticosteroid medication directly into the affected joint to relieve pain and swelling. Cortisone is a very effective anti-inflammatory medicine and long-term pain reliever.

If conservative treatment measures are ineffective, surgery may be recommended. Surgical treatment options may include:

  • Joint Debridement (cleansing): A surgical procedure to remove loose cartilage, bone spurs, and inflamed synovium tissue that lines the inside of the joint capsule.
  • Tendon repair: A surgical procedure to repair the loosened or torn tendons due to inflammation and joint injury.
  • Joint fusion: A surgical procedure to realign or stabilize a joint and to promote pain relief. The procedure involves fastening bone ends together until they fully heal and become one. This method is used when a joint replacement option is ruled out.
  • Total joint replacement: A surgical procedure in which a damaged part of your joint is removed and replaced with an artificial joint prosthesis made of plastic or metal.

Prevention from Post-traumatic Arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis cannot be prevented, but its chances can be reduced by using suitable protective gear during sports and risky work activities, and by maintaining an ideal body weight and body mass index.

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