Traumatic Arthritis

Traumatic arthritis and post traumatic arthritis are similar to degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis. Except with the traumatic forms of arthritis you can point to a specific event or injury that led to the joint damage. 






Injuries to the Joint Surface

Both are caused by injuries to the ligaments and the joint surfaces.

But, in traumatic arthritis it is a single event that causes the arthritis.  In degenerative joint disease it is an accumulation of minor events over many years that causes the damage. 

Traumatic Arthritis

Many different types of injuries can damage a joint. In many cases the arthritis pain is not noticed because of the severity of other injuries that occur at the same time. 

This capitulum fracture of the left elbow will cause arthritis in the elbow joint because of damage to the joint surface.

Capitulum fracture

Image thanks to Thomas Zimmermann, via Wikimedia Commons

May not be noticed immediately

Consider a motor vehicle accident with lacerations, head injuries, and multiple broken bones. One or more joints may be damaged but cause little pain in relation to the other traumatic injuries. 

It is not until months later when wounds have healed and bones have repaired themselves that the pain of the traumatic joint injury begins to be noticed. It could be when you start physical therapy for some of your other injuries that you feel pain in your knee or wrist or some other joint that you have not felt before. 

Or it may be the Only Thing that You Notice 

Of course, You may have joint damage that is noticed immediately. An injury to the joint, such as a torn ligament or a fracture of the bone within the joint will cause joint pain that is difficult to miss. 

When repairing ligaments and fixing fractures within joints surgeons are very careful to align the joint surfaces a perfectly as they can. Unfortunately, even with perfect alignment there is likely to be some pain. 

After an Injury the Joint will Never be the Same.

The joint surface will never be as smooth and shiny as it was before the injury.  Nothing is as good as original equipment. In smaller joints with limited use the pain may be fairly tolerable. However, in larger joints that carry a lot of weight and are used constantly the pain can be severe. 

Post Traumatic Arthritis

These fractures of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th metatarsals will alter the motion of the joints near the fractures. This will lead to post traumatic arthritis sooner or later.

Lisfranc fractures

Image thanks to James Heilman MD, via Wikimedia Commons

May Develop Years Later

Post traumatic and traumatic forms of arthritis are only slightly different.  Post traumatic arthritis can develop years after the original incident. But, it is still because of what happened back then. 

Post traumatic arthritis develops when the initial injury changes the way a joint works or moves.  

Changes the Alignment

A fracture may alter the joint alignment.  When This can cause the symptoms of arthritis to develop sooner than they normally would. 

For example, if you injured your lower leg in a motorcycle accident. You may have fractured your tibia and damaged some of the muscles.

After it Heals

You are put into a cast and the bone heals but it is a little bit crooked. The injured muscles heal but there is some scar tissue that limits your ankle range of motion. 

Everything heals and you are pretty much pain free. You get back to work and return to living your life normally.

Changes the Way Your Joint Works

That crooked bone in your lower leg might be putting more pressure on the inside part of your ankle joint and a few years later you begin noticing ankle pain. 

X-rays might show that the cartilage is worn out on the inside part of your ankle joint. This is because all of your weight has been wearing on that part of the joint for the last few years because of the crooked tibia bone. 

That is post traumatic arthritis. 

Arthritis Treatments

Treatments for arthritis do not really depend on what caused the arthritis.  When a joint is damaged and the cartilage is worn away you will suffer the pain of arthritis.

First Line Treatments

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen can reduce pain and inflammation.  This group of medications can have severe side effects for some people.  Always check with your doctor before starting a new medicine.  

Narcotic Pain Medications

Narcotics such as hydrocodone or oxycodone are often used for joint pain when anti-inflammatories have not been strong enough.  These can be helpful but when the pain is severe even strong narcotic pain medications may not be enough to completely relieve your pain.

Joint Replacement Surgery

When medical treatments have not been able to relieve your pain and allow normal activity you may want to consider joint replacement surgery.

This treatment is only available for certain joints.  Most common are knee and hip replacements.  

In recent years surgeons are developing ways to replace other joints such as shoulders, ankles, and elbows.  They are working to find ways to replace many smaller joints.



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