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What Is Post-Traumatic Arthritis?

A physical injury can involve a long and difficult road to recovery. Even after the visible wounds heal, victims of negligence may suffer from long-term consequences. A common complication from a physical injury is a condition called post-traumatic arthritis, a painful medical condition that can seriously affect a person’s life quality.

Arthritis refers to the inflammation of any joint. A common cause of arthritis is a condition called osteoarthritis, which is what occurs when the surface cartilage surrounding a joint wears out. Post-traumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis and it arises from a physical injury to the joint.

Post-traumatic arthritis is unfortunately common. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it affects around 5.6 million people in the United States and accounts for around 12% of all osteoarthritis affecting the hips, knees, and ankles.

Causes of Post Traumatic Arthritis

When a physical injury occurs in a joint, it is more likely to experience osteoarthritis. Falls, motor vehicle accidents, and other forms of physical trauma can change the mechanics of the joint and cause it to wear out more quickly. The process of osteoarthritis may accelerate if an injury does not heal properly or a person does not undergo appropriate therapy following the injury.

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Arthritis

A person with post-traumatic arthritis may experience several uncomfortable symptoms.

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling of the affected area
  • Fluid accumulation in the joint
  • Inability to move or participate in activities that used the joint before – hindered participation in sports or other physical activity.

A physician may be able to diagnose post-traumatic arthritis based on a detailed history and physical exam. He or she may ask questions about when it bothers you, what makes it worse, and when it feels better. He or she may also order diagnostic tests such as an x-ray or CT scan, as well as laboratory bloodwork to eliminate other possibilities.

Treatment of Post Traumatic Arthritis

The treatment plan for post-traumatic arthritis varies based on the individual and how the injury affects his or her quality of life. Conservative treatments include maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in low-impact exercise to strengthen the muscles that surround the joint. Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as Advil may be helpful in controlling pain. Other treatment options include cortisone injections to control inflammation or the introduction of Hylamers to act as artificial joint fluid.

When post-traumatic arthritis progresses to the point that conservative measures do not adequately address the pain, then surgical intervention may become necessary. Possible surgical options include debriding, reconstructing, or replacing the surfaces of the joint. As a progressive disease, most people can expect post-traumatic arthritis to become worse as time goes on.

Unfortunately, the treatment of post-traumatic arthritis can also have risks and side effects. Prolonged use of NSAIDs, for example, can cause stomach problems as well as irritation of the liver and kidneys. Cortisone injections can elevate the heart rate and might not be appropriate for some patients. Surgical interventions often bring the most relief, but come with risks of infection or damage to the surrounding areas of the body. Anyone who suffers from post-traumatic arthritis should consider the risks and benefits of each treatment carefully.

Post-traumatic arthritis can seriously diminish a person’s quality of life and treatment can be expensive. A personal injury claim should consider the long-term consequences of the accident as well as the cost of any surgical intervention. A person who suffers from post-traumatic arthritis arising from an accident may be able to collect compensation from the economic and noneconomic damages it causes. An attorney can help determine the extent of the damages and demand fair compensation from the parties proximally responsible.