dr. thomas mcdonald foot and ankle specialist

Effective Treatments For Post-Traumatic Ankle Arthritis

When you hear the team “ankle arthritis,” you likely picture a condition affecting older adults. After all, the most common form of ankle arthritis is osteoarthritis, which is categorized by degenerative wear and tear on a joint. However, as we explained in this blog, there are a few different types of ankle arthritis, one of which being post-traumatic arthritis. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at some of the most effective ways to manage post-traumatic ankle arthritis.

Causes And Symptoms Of Post-Traumatic Ankle Arthritis

As the name of the condition implies, post-traumatic ankle arthritis develops in the wake of traumatic injury to the foot and ankle. Because of this, it’s not isolated to older adults who have put decades of stress on their ankle joints. We see this condition in young, old, active and relatively inactive patients. The most common causes of injuries that can eventually lead to post-traumatic ankle arthritis are trauma during athletic activity, injuries suffered during vehicle collisions or as a result of a hard fall. This trauma results in damage to the protective cartilage that helps to facilitate normal ankle movement. Damage to the cartilage can cause it to erode faster, eventually leading to painful bone on bone contact. While osteoarthritis usually sets in over the course of a number of years, post-traumatic arthritis can set in over the course of a few months if the trauma is left untreated.

Besides pain, the most common symptoms associated with post traumatic ankle arthritis include:

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Symptoms that worsen with activity

Diagnosing And Treating Post-Traumatic Ankle Arthritis

Post-traumatic ankle arthritis can typically be diagnosed with the help of a physical examination and certain imaging tests that can assess the health of your bones and soft tissues in your ankle. X-rays, MRIs and CT scans can help your doctor explore the extent of the damage to your cartilage and develop a treatment plan to help avoid additional cartilage damage.

Not all foot and ankle injuries will result in post-traumatic ankle arthritis. In fact, most mild to moderate ankle injuries don’t end up causing long-term problems for the health of your ankle joint. However, you will significantly increase your risk of long-term ankle problems, including post-traumatic ankle arthritis, if you don’t proactively treat your original ankle injury. Continuing to go about your day like normal or attempting to return to athletic activities before enough healing has taken place can greatly increase your risk of further ankle joint damage and post-traumatic ankle arthritis.

Preventing post-traumatic ankle arthritis and treating early-stage arthritis typically follow the same treatment course, with a heavy dose of rest, activity restrictions, physical therapy and gradual return to physical activities. Patients may also be told to use ice/heat therapy, orthotic inserts or ankle braces to help improve function in the ankle. Making sure that you slowly take on bigger physical challenges while strengthening the area will be crucial for helping you prevent and treat post-traumatic ankle arthritis.

In the rare instance where conservative care fails to provide relief, or following a severe ankle injury, surgery may be required. Surgery will help to realign the ankle joint and clean up the remaining cartilage to help restore as much functional movement as possible. Other patients may undergo a total ankle replacement procedure, which involves replacing the injured ankle joint with an artificial component. Both procedures have a high rate of success, but most patients find relief through conservative means.

If you have suffered an ankle injury and need help recovering so that you can safely return to sports or reduce your likelihood of post-traumatic ankle arthritis, connect with Dr. McDonald and his team. Ankle care is one of his specialties, and he’s confident he can find the right treatment for you. For more information, or for help with a different foot and ankle issue, give his team a call today at (860) 244-8889.

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