Post-Traumatic Arthritis: Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment
‘Arthritis,’ is defined as inflammation of a joint in a person’s body. The most common cause is wearing out of joint surface cartilage or, ‘osteoarthritis,’ something I am all too familiar with. Post-traumatic arthritis is caused by the wearing out of a joint that has had any kind of physical injury. The injury might be from a car accident, sports, a fall, military injury, or any other source of physical trauma. Injuries may damage the cartilage or bone, changing the mechanics of the joint and making it wear out more quickly. The wearing out process is accelerated by continued injury and excess body weight.
“As many as 15 percent of people who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis may have developed joint problems as a result of injury. Damaging a joint raises your chances of developing arthritis sevenfold.” – American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
For me, the story began when I became a nursing assistant. My fellow caregivers always called on,’the big guy,’ to help them transfer people in and out of wheelchairs and beds and so on. Over the years, my knees, ankles and feet began to pay the price. Finally, I tore the cartilage in both knees and had surgery to clean up the damages done. At the same time, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. My story is only one of a great many; people are forced to face the results of post-traumatic arthritis every single day around the world.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Arthritis
The symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis include a number of things. When a person has injured their joints repeatedly, the symptoms become more pronounced. These symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Fluid accumulation in the joint
- Decreased tolerance for walking, sports, stairs, and other activities that stress the joint
In my experience, all of the above are true. Swelling and joint pain tend to make me face reality towards the afternoon or end of the day. Stairs have become a real issue, so has walking any appreciable distance. Sports are out of the question, unless you consider chess to be a sport. Post-traumatic arthritis causes around 12% of osteoarthritis of the knee, hip and ankle. It affects approximately 5.6 million people in America alone.
Preventing Post-Traumatic Arthritis
Post-traumatic arthritis is something that cannot be prevented. It might be minimized by preventing injuries. If it cannot be prevented, surgical treatment of the injuries to restore the injured joint to as close to new condition as possible may help. Maintaining as close as possible to average body weight can help as well. What this means is do not stress your joints and keep your weight down; however, easier said than done for many people in a variety of occupations.
Diagnosing Post-Traumatic Arthritis
When a person visits a doctor for evaluation of joint pain, the doctor will ask them about the history of the issue. Questions will include:
- History of an injury
- What makes the pain worse
- What makes the pain better
- How and when the joint bothers the person
The doctor will perform a physical examination. X-rays will likely be performed, as well as a CT scan, MRI, or other imaging studies. Blood testing might also be ordered by the doctor.
Treating Post-Traumatic Arthritis
Treatment for post-traumatic arthritis begins with weight loss, low impact exercises and strengthening of the person’s muscles surrounding the joint, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAID’s are often recommended if the person can take them. Arthritic joints may also be injected with cortisone or substances called, ‘Hylamers,’ which act like artificial joint fluid. All of these measures are aimed at making the joint more functional and comfortable; they do not cure arthritis.
My doctor prescribed, ‘Meloxicam,’ which is a form of NSAID to treat the pain. One time I went through ten injections in each knee in an attempt to ease the pain and make my knees perform better. The injections lasted around five months and did well…’Okay.’
When post-traumatic arthritis progresses to the point that measures are not effective in treating pain and maintaining function, surgical intervention becomes a topic. Surgical treatment might include, ‘debriding,’ reconstructing, or replacing the worn out surfaces of a joint. Post-traumatic arthritis progresses as time passes. The surface of the joint continues to wear out with use over time. Even when non-surgical treatments are no longer effective, surgical treatment may offer lasting relief.
Post-Traumatic Arthritis and Side-Effects of Treatment
It is important to note that any medical or surgical treatment may have risks and side-effects. NSAID’s may cause stomach irritation, liver, kidney, or additional issues. Cortisone can cause elevation of the person’s heart rate and blood sugar and should not be administered too often. Surgical treatments have risks of:
- Blood clots
- Heart attack
- Other problems
- Damage to surrounding structures
- Wearing out or loosening of implants
All of these issues are quite infrequent. Most surgery is successful in improving pain and function. For example; after surgery on both knees to debride and repair damages done, my joint pain decreased and the ability of my knees to function improved somewhat. After surgery, there is some level of discomfort. A person might need to use a sling, crutches, a cane or a walker temporarily. I still use a can on occasion.
A person with post-traumatic arthritis can expect their pain relief and function to gradually improve over a period of months following surgery. The fact of the matter is, further degeneration of the joint affected will occur. Post-traumatic arthritis is not an issue we can eliminate. We can; however, minimize the symptoms and loss of function it causes for people with medicine, exercise, weight loss and surgery.
- What You Should Know about Post-Traumatic Arthritis
- New Clues to Healing Arthritis Caused by Traumatic Injury
- Post-Traumatic Arthritis: When Old Injuries Come Back to Haunt You