When we hear the term “ankle arthritis,” most of us think of osteoarthritis. There’s a reason for this—osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. However, as many as 15% of people diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the ankle actually have what is called posttraumatic ankle arthritis.
Unlike osteoarthritis, which primarily affects older people, posttraumatic ankle arthritis can strike people of any age. In fact, it’s often seen in younger people. In this blog, NYC orthopedic foot and ankle specialist, Dr. Stuart Katchis, will address what posttraumatic ankle arthritis is, how it develops and how it’s treated.
What is posttraumatic ankle arthritis?
Posttraumatic ankle arthritis is exactly what it sounds like—arthritis that occurs after trauma to the ankle. It’s characterized by damage to the ankle’s cartilage that develops following an injury, such as a fracture or severe ankle sprain. Although it is most common after injuries that damage the joint surface, any injury to the ankle can be the culprit.
Like osteoarthritis, posttraumatic arthritis occurs when the smooth cartilage covering the surfaces of the joint begins to thin and erode, eventually resulting in bone rubbing on bone. Unlike osteoarthritis, which normally takes decades to develop, posttraumatic arthritis can develop over a much shorter period of time. It may take years, but sometimes it develops in mere months.
Damaging a joint raises your chances of developing arthritis sevenfold. After an injury, the joint may stop making some of the substances that are needed to maintain the joint. At the same time, the bone in the area may become stiffer, thicker and heavier, which reduces its shock-absorbing capability. When this happens, the cartilage thins and doesn’t repair itself, resulting in posttraumatic arthritis.
What are the signs that I might have posttraumatic ankle arthritis?
Symptoms of posttraumatic arthritis in the ankle are similar to those of osteoarthritis. You should be wary if you experience symptoms in an ankle that has suffered a fracture, twist, or severe sprain in the past. In this case, you could be developing posttraumatic ankle arthritis.
- Stiffness and pain in the ankle joint
- Inflammation and swelling around the joint
- Difficulty walking and moving the joint up and down
- Reduced range of motion in the ankle
- Pain that worsens with an increase in activity
How is posttraumatic ankle arthritis treated?
In most cases, symptoms can be improved with conservative treatments. Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Rest – Stopping, or at least reducing, activities that make the symptoms worse is the first step.
- Ice – Icing the ankle can help reduce inflammation and the pain associated with it.
- Anti-inflammatory medications – Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen often reduces pain significantly.
- Physical therapy – Undergoing physical therapy can be very beneficial for those with arthritis. A physical therapist can work with you to change the way you move and reduce the stress on your ankle.
- Orthotics – Using specialized shoe inserts can help reposition the foot and redistribute force to reduce pressure on the joint.
- Weight loss – Extra body weight puts more stress on the ankle joint and causes additional wear and tear. Losing weight can reduce strain on the joint and help relieve symptoms.
- Ankle brace – Wearing a brace that stabilizes and supports the joint can reduce pain and pressure.
- Cortisone injections – Getting an injection can reduce inflammation and have a big impact on pain and discomfort.
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. However, this is typically only an option when all other nonsurgical methods have failed to produce results.
Looking for posttraumatic ankle arthritis treatment in NYC?
If you’re experiencing any of the telltale signs of posttraumatic ankle arthritis, the good news is that nonsurgical treatments can help. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Katchis at Extend Orthopedics today to learn about your treatment options. We offer practice locations in both New York City and Scarsdale.