Clinically Relevant Anatomy
Trauma can cause damage to the articular cartilage of the joint, which results in weakening cartilage that is not able to withstand the stress. The articular cartilage layer start to break down as a result of this.
Any injury to any joint can lead to traumatic arthritis. It is important to differentiate between regular arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis. Post-traumatic arthritis develops as a result of a trauma, while regular arthritis develops gradually without any apparent outside reason. Post-traumatic arthritis makes out about 12% of osteoarthritis cases. Symptom onset can be as long ago as 2-5 years after an injury to the joint was sustained. The cartilage can be bruised when too much pressure is exerted on it. This can happen without any superficial appearance of damage. The injury to the joint does not show up until months later. More severe injury to the cartilage can cause loose fragments when the cartilage comes loose from the bone. These loose pieces are not able to heal, and move around in the joint, and can result into catching and subsequent pain. These defects does not heal as with bone, but are instead filled with scar tissue. Broken off cartilage need to be surgically removed from the joint.
There are several symptoms that can indicate a case of post-traumatic arthritis. It includes the following:
- Swelling of the joint
- Synovial effusion
- Pain in the joint
- Intolerance to weight-bearing activities
- Joint instability
A diagnose of post-traumatic arthritis can be considered, even more when this condition develops at an early age. Post-traumatic arthritis normally recovers spontaneously, but if the symptoms are still present after 6 months, it is seen as chronic. Sometimes pain comes and goes over a long period of time. The pain may or may not be accompanied by inflammation of the joint or surrounding area. Often the symptoms would disappear without any major medical intervention, these symptoms may re-appear after a while. 
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- Various pathologies related to specific joints
- Hip Disability and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score
- Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score
- Western Ontario and McMaster universities osteoarthritis index (WOMAC) WOMAC Osteoarthritis Index,
- Algofunctional index (AFI)
- Intermittent and constant osteoarthritis pain index (ICOAP)
- West-Haven-Yale Multidimensional Pain Inventory (Assesses chronic pain in individuals and Recommended for use in conjunction with behavioral and psycho-physiological strategies)
- Oxford Hip Scale
- Oxford Knee Score
- McGill Pain Questionnaire Short-Form
Conservative management is the treatment of first choice, and surgery is only considered when this fails. Surgical management will determine on the joint affected, as well as the extent of damage to the joint. For example, post-traumatic hip arthritis might be managed with a hip replacement when conservative management fails. Medical management can not stop the disease process of post-traumatic arthritis, but it can be used to manage the symptoms. Supplemental glucosamine and anti-inflammatory pain medications are normally prescribed to patients. Management will be very similar to that of osteoarthritis.
Conservative management includes:
- Activity modification
- Unloading the joint with a mobility assistive device
- Exercise program aimed at regaining range of motion, strength and coordination
- Weight management
Physiotherapy also plays a big role in the post-surgical management of these patients. The type of surgery will determine the physiotherapy approach.
Clinical Bottom Line
Post-traumatic arthritis is secondary osteoarthritis that forms after a specific injury to a joint. Symptom can present as long as 2-5 years post injury. Conservative management includes analgesia, as well as physiotherapy. Surgical management is considered when conservative management fails, and again physiotherapy plays a crutial part in the post-operative rehabilitation of these patients.
- Cleveland Clinic. Post-traumatic arthritis. Available from:http://www.massagetoday.com/mpacms/mt/article.php (accessed 4 April 2019).
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- Saltzman CL, Salamon ML, Blanchard GM, Huff T, Hayes A, Buckwalter JA, Amendola A. Epidemiology of ankle arthritis: report of a consecutive series of 639 patients from a tertiary orthopaedic center. The Iowa orthopaedic journal 2005;25:44.
- Punzi L, Galozzi P, Luisetto R, Favero M, Ramonda R, Oliviero F, Scanu A. Post-traumatic arthritis: overview on pathogenic mechanisms and role of inflammation. RMD open 2016;2(2):e000279.
- Cleveland Clinic. Post-Traumatic Arthritis: Diagnosis and Tests. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14616-post-traumatic-arthritis/diagnosis-and-tests (accessed 6 April 2019).