Atrium Health Navicent Musculoskeletal Care Orthopedic Trauma

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Symptoms and Treatment of Arthritis

Arthritis is a term that refers to inflammation in a joint in the body. The wearing out of cartilage is the most common cause of osteoarthritis. The most common risk factor for developing osteoarthritis is being overweight or obese. There is also a type of arthritis, which is referred to as rheumatoid arthritis, and this is considered an autoimmune disease during which the joints are attacked by the body's own immune system and subsequently become painful and swollen. The third type of arthritis is referred to as post-traumatic arthritis and this variation of the disease typically occurs as a result of an injury or some type of trauma, as its name implies.

Post-traumatic arthritis is different from other types of arthritis, as it is not the result of the normal wear and tear on joints that occurs from aging or long-term involvement in sports or other physical activities that could wear out the joints. Rather, this type of arthritis is usually caused by a single impact from an injury involving a fracture, sprain, dislocated a joint. Such injuries can occur in almost any traumatic injury: automobile accidents, while one is participating in sports, or from simple slip and fall accidents.

When such trauma occurs, the bone, joint and cartilage, as well as the mechanics of how they all work together, are instantly affected in a negative way. Injuries of this type are often accelerated if they occur when the individual is carrying excess body weight. The symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis can develop at any point after the injuries occurs.

Post-traumatic arthritis makes up approximately 12 percent of all cases of the disorder and affects approximately 5 million individuals in the United States alone.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis are similar to those seen with other types of the disorder, such as fluid accumulation in the joint, swelling, and joint pain. Functional changes typically occur, such as decreased tolerance for climbing stairs, participating in sports, walking, or other activities that place stress on the joint. It is also possible for the joint to become deformed, causing the patient to feel one or more lumps in the area.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Arthritis is typically diagnosed with an X-ray. Decreased joint space and sclerotic bone are hallmark signs of this type of arthritis.

In many cases, the pain associated with arthritis can be alleviated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or other medication that reduce swelling and inflammation in the affected area. However, because not all patients find relief through medication alone, physical therapy and the use of orthopedic devices, such as splints or braces, are sometimes recommended as well. In many instances, it is necessary to use a combination of medication, therapy, and orthopedic devices to minimize symptoms and stabilize the affected joint.


Arthritis is not a condition that can be eliminated but rather managed by medication to decrease symptoms. When that is no longer effective, the joint is replaced with a prosthesis also referred to as joint replacement is performed. However, in most cases, doctors will make every attempt to avoid surgery if possible. In many cases, symptoms can be minimized without surgery and a certain amount of function can be restored through exercise, weight loss, and physical therapy. The decision to have surgery depends on numerous factors, such as the joint that are injured, how the injury occurred, the age of the patient, and the doctor's opinion about whether or not it is possible to control, minimize symptoms, or even improve the function of the joint without surgical intervention. In many cases, physical therapy completed over a long period of time proves beneficial regarding the reduction of pain and increased joint stability.

In cases where surgery is the only option, there are several types of procedures a doctor may discuss with you. For example, if the cartilage surrounding the joint is what surgeons refer to as bruised, and swelling has caused too much pressure on the joint, broken pieces of cartilage can be surgically removed. In other cases, entire joint replacement may be necessary. Although the latter is major orthopedic surgery, the benefits include the instant elimination of pain, as the joint prosthesis will entirely replace the damaged, malfunctioning joint. Depending on the joint involved, the demand and function of the patient, a joint fusion or arthrodesis may be the best option as well.

Because arthritis can happen to essentially anyone, it is important to have all injuries evaluated by a medical professional at the time they occur. In this way, it is possible to manage the symptoms of arthritis.