Doctor using a hip model to educate their patient.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Arthritis comes in many forms and when it develops from an injury, it’s known as post-traumatic arthritis, causing pain and stiffness in the affected joint. While surgery isn’t usually required to treat it, there are conservative approaches that can help speed up the recovery time.

As there are many types of arthritis and arthritis after trauma is a subtype of another form, a proper evaluation from a doctor is needed to ensure the arthritis is a result of an injury.

What is Post-Traumatic Arthritis

When a joint becomes inflamed due to an injury or trauma it is known as post-traumatic arthritis, which is distinct from other forms of the condition which usually develop from years of wear and tear. Arthritis that is post-traumatic is usually temporary and can take a few months to recover from without medical intervention, but can also become a chronic condition without treatment.


Post-traumatic arthritis is a subtype of osteoarthritis but is often discussed as the same thing, which they aren’t. While arthritis caused by an injury falls categorically beneath osteoarthritis, they are different conditions due to what causes them; osteoarthritis develops due to the wear and tear of cartilage around the joints and is the most common form of arthritis.

Essentially, post-traumatic arthritis is a secondary type of osteoarthritis caused by direct joint trauma or injury and is treated differently, which is why it’s important to be properly evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis Symptoms

Post-traumatic arthritis symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness or sensitivity to touch

Also, any joint in the body can develop injury-related arthritis, but is most commonly found in the:

  • Hips
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Ankles

Causes of Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Any injury to the joints, such as from car accidents, sports injuries, falls, or events that damage the bones can wear down the cartilage in joints faster than natural processes, especially if injuries repeatedly affect the same joint.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis Treatment Options

To ensure the right treatment, a doctor needs to perform a physical exam and order imaging tests so that you’re properly diagnosed with post-traumatic arthritis rather than another form of it. During the exam, your doctor will move the joint around and compare the range of motion with other joints, and discuss your symptoms. To help with the diagnosis, your healthcare provider may run any of the following imaging tests:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): this is to get a complete picture of the damage affecting your joint and the area around it, such as the bones and tissue.
  • X-rays: this will confirm how much damage is done to the joints as a result of injuries.
  • CT scan: usually done when surgery is needed to repair the joint and helps doctors to know the extent of the damage.

Once your diagnosis is confirmed, several treatment options can be recommended, including:

  • Low-impact exercise: activities like swimming and biking don’t put your full weight on the joints and can help reduce pain while helping you to move it.
  • Weight loss: reducing weight helps to lessen the stress on the affected joints.
  • Wearing a brace: a brace around the joint helps to reduce tension and to hold it in place
  • Physical therapy: to help increase the strength and flexibility around the injured joint, your doctor may recommend a physical therapist to create customized exercises and movements.

Surgical Treatments

Surgery is rarely recommended for post-traumatic arthritis, usually when it is so severe that it hinders everyday activities and your quality of life, or if severe pain persists for months. When surgery is needed, there are several options for patients:

  • Joint fusion (arthrodesis): a plate is inserted and screwed to the bones to keep the joint together, creating more stability and reducing pain, but also limiting flexibility and movement.
  • Debridement: removing damaged tissue and/or reshaping the bones to treat arthritis.
  • Joint replacement (arthroplasty): the damaged joint is replaced with an artificial one made of metal, plastic, or ceramics.

Hip Doctors

  • Hip & Knee Replacement
  • Robotic/Computer Assisted
  • Sports Medicine
  • Shoulder
  • Elbow
  • Hip
  • Knee

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