Posttraumatic arthritis is a chronic form of osteoarthritis that develops after a serious injury to a joint.
This condition affects more young patients — although it can affect anyone who suffers a significant joint injury — and leads to reduced physical activity and degradation of musculoskeletal conditioning.
Allowing an injury to go untreated significantly increases your chances of developing this condition. It also leads to an earlier onset and greater severity of posttraumatic osteoarthritis.
What Is Posttraumatic Arthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the term used for the degradation of a joint due to inflammation. Normally, this condition occurs after a lifetime of use, wear and tear. When you sustain an injury to a joint — in a car crash, fall or sports injury — the trauma caused by the injury can lead to inflammation and the subsequent breakdown of the joint.
Posttraumatic arthritis is common, accounting for approximately 12 to 15 percent of all OA cases and affecting more than 5.6 million people in the U.S.
If you have sustained a joint injury, your chances of developing this condition are more than 50 percent. Patients with ACL injuries are exceptionally prone to this condition. Degradation of the joint happens quickly, especially if you have any of the OA risk factors, which include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and a family history of OA.
Symptoms of Post-Injury Arthritis
The symptoms of post-injury OA include swelling, fluid buildup and pain. Symptoms typically worsen after activity, particularly walking, climbing stairs or sports participation.
The more significant your injury, the more severe your symptoms are likely to be. If you experienced repeated injuries, or if you did not seek treatment when you were injured, the onset of post-injury OA can be swift and severe and worsen more rapidly.
Posttraumatic Arthritis Treatment and Prevention
The most effective way to prevent posttraumatic OA is to have any serious orthopedic injury evaluated by a sports medicine or orthopedic specialist. Failure to get treatment for an injury significantly increases your risk.
Rehabbing from an injury is also crucial, as strengthening and improving range of motion, along with healthy, regular movement, are critical for recovery.
Treatment protocols for post-injury OA depend on which components of a joint are affected. Unfortunately, conservative treatment approaches will do little to delay the onset or diminish the severity of this condition.
Some patients require surgical intervention, and even joint replacement. However, minimally invasive orthobiologic treatments, delivered via guided injection, are shown to be highly effective for many patients.
Specifically, both bone marrow-derived stem cell injections and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections may provide significant benefit. The sooner patients can have orthobiologic treatment after the initial injury, the better their long-term prognosis is likely to be for posttraumatic arthritis.