Can Sports Injuries Cause Arthritis?

All too often, we brush off sports injuries as minor inconveniences. Everything from breaks to sprains to cartilage tears gets wrapped up, treated, and then forgotten. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the end. But can sports injuries cause arthritis?

In fact, they can still come back to haunt us years later in the form of arthritis. This condition is specifically known as post-traumatic arthritis. To avoid complications, visit the best sports medicine DC has around.

Can Sports Injuries Cause Arthritis?

Post-traumatic arthritis imitates the symptoms of osteoarthritis with two major differences.

  • The patient’s discomfort is usually asymmetric unless the patient has had the same sports injury on both sides of the body.
  • The patient begins experiencing symptoms at an abnormally early age. Osteoarthritis doesn’t usually present until after age 60.

What Causes Post-Traumatic Arthritis?

Post-traumatic arthritis occurs when a sports injury damages the adjacent joint. In some cases, the damage to the joint proves obvious. Pieces of cartilage may have torn away, causing them to catch in the joint and cause pain. This damage usually shows up during basic imaging. And your doctor will typically suggest that you have these fragments of cartilage removed. Their removal won’t necessarily prevent post-traumatic arthritis. But it can reduce immediate symptoms.

In addition to more obvious damage, even something as small as a bruise to the cartilage can lead to deterioration of the joint over time. In this case, your doctor may not even realize the cartilage has receivced damaged until you begin to show the symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis years later.

To put it simply, the symptoms of arthritis result from bone rubbing directly onto bone. Normally, the cartilage in each of your joints acts as a cushion, allowing your bones to go through their full range of motion smoothly. However, when the cartilage receives damage, it speeds the rate of natural deterioration through usage and age. Therefore, patients with post-traumatic arthritis typically start showing their first symptoms 2 to 5 years after the initial injury.

Preventing Post-Traumatic Arthritis

The best way to prevent post-traumatic arthritis is to prevent injury. All athletes should work with a sports medicine doctor to identify potential weak points and problems with technique. For orthopedics DC, Dr. Stein is here for you. With your regular trainer, your sports medicine doctor will help you focus on strengthening the small muscles in your body that support the joints you are most likely to injure based on your sport of choice.

Additionally, a sports medicine doctor will be able to help you work through any pre-existing injuries. With a personalized physical therapy plan, you can work to maintain flexibility and strength in the affected area. That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t eventually develop the symptoms of post-traumatic arthritis. Still, a good physical therapy routine can limit the damage to the cartilage over time and create the baseline for a personalized treatment plan.

Treating Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Unfortunately, many patients don’t know post-traumatic arthritis exists until they are diagnosed with it. At this point, the primary treatment focus has to be on alleviating your symptoms through pain management and inflammation control. Your sports medicine doctor can still be an important part of your care team if you are physically active. Still, you may want to consider prioritizing a specialist who is also experienced in orthopedic surgery.

By establishing a rapport with a medical doctor who can seamlessly transition from your day to day treatment to the surgical theatre when needed, you can streamline your experience and ensure that you have a surgeon who knows you and the process you’ve gone through. For more information on post-traumatic arthritis and its relationship to common sports injuries, contact your local sports medicine doctor for a consultation and exam.