What is Post-traumatic Arthritis and How is it Treated?

The #TCSNYCMarathon is over, and now the fun starts.  The post-run parties, celebrations and triumphs, the blisters, loose toenails and impossibly sore muscles (can always spot the marathoners after the race – they’re the ones grunting down stairs).  Continuing our most thrilling and exciting discussion about various types of arthritis, it seems appropriate to discuss post-traumatic arthritis.

By way of review, arthritis is inflammation of a joint in which the cartilage wears down, thereby leading to bone on bone contact during motion.  The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” arthritis, which involves cartilage breakdown due to a variety of reasons.  Post-traumatic arthritis develops after any type of injury, but most commonly happens years after an injury to a joint, such as a fracture or a severe sprain.  This is especially common in injuries involving damage to the cartilage.  Damaged articular cartilage does not regrow and the injury tends to progress over time, potentially leading to further cartilage loss and joint pain.

So how to treat?  Initially as with all other types of arthritis, treatment involves motion.  It’s important to keep the joints moving as the body will often adapt to the cartilage loss.  Significant damage and pain can often be delayed or avoided if there is continued range of motion in the form of regular activity and exercise.  Orthotics and accommodative shoes can provide support and comfort to arthritic joints, and corticosteroid injections relieve pain, albeit temporarily.  If the damage and pain are severe and adversely affect quality of life, surgery to fuse or replace damaged joints can relieve pain and thereby restore quality of life and daily function.

So whether you’ve just finished the big 26, fractured an ankle years ago, kicked the soccer ball or your ex too many times, there are good treatments available that keep getting better.  Keep your joints moving, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll see you in the office.

Ernest Isaacson