Post-Traumatic Arthritis in the Ankle

Does post-traumatic arthritis lead to ankle surgery at some point in the future?

There are dozens of variations on the saying about old sins coming back to haunt you. In place of sins, some people insert habits, insults, social media posts, or whatever applies to the point they are trying to make. When it comes to joint damage, the saying would go something like “old injuries come back to haunt you”. 

Post-traumatic arthritis is one of the three types of arthritis that most often affect the ankle. The other two are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Our quote about old injuries applies to post-traumatic arthritis because it is triggered by some sort of trauma or injury that affected the ankle, often many years in the past. 

What Causes Post-Traumatic Arthritis?

When a superstar basketball or football player leaps up in the air to dunk a ball or make an impossible catch, the ankle injury that sometimes results from landing wrong usually makes headlines. A young gymnast or professional dancer may suffer a similar fate with less fanfare but still, there will be some acknowledgment that their injury was part of the cost of striving for excellence in their craft. The rest of us typically end up acquiring our ankle fractures or dislocations by stepping off of a curb or failing to see a hole or depression in the ground. 

Each of these situations, as well as others involving things like falls, vehicle accidents, and occupational injuries, can end up causing acute trauma to the ankle joint. Treatment will depend upon the type and severity of the injury, but most will heal and the individual will be able to return to their normal activities. Obviously, some of these situations will involve more drama than others, but one thing they will all have in common is that their injury will likely be a factor in their developing post-traumatic arthritis later in life. 

Years down the road, post-traumatic arthritis can develop in the ankle, especially if the original damage was to the surface of the joint. Following an injury, like a fracture or dislocation, the body’s systems spring into action and one of the things that happen is that hormones are sent to the site of the injury. An unfortunate side-effect of this process is that those hormones can damage and even kill some of the cartilage cells, increasing the likelihood of arthritis in the future. In fact, research shows that arthritis is seven times more likely to develop in a joint with a prior injury, even with prompt and proper treatment.

Treatment for Arthritis in the Ankle

Conservative treatment measures may help and will likely be suggested by your orthopedist. This will typically include some combination of:

  • Medications to relieve pain and reduce inflammation
  • Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and minimizing activities that aggravate the pain and inflammation
  • Physical therapy
  • Cortisone injections

In situations where conservative methods are not sufficient, surgery may be recommended. This will usually be either ankle fusion (arthrodesis) or ankle joint replacement surgery (arthroplasty). 

If you have questions about arthritis or about any other foot or ankle concerns, Dr. Christopher Hubbard is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon with Ortho-Care Wayne in Bergen County New Jersey, and is the former Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in NYC.

To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.