Post-traumatic osteoarthritis, where inflammation of the joint cartilage develops after a car accident, is not uncommon. For example, about 12% of all cases of osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, and ankle are preceded by some type of trauma or accident in America. A primary injury occurs at these joints, and then later on a debilitating form of osteoarthritis can develop in the same areas.
How does this happen?
Biomechanical factors such as car accident induced trauma, ligament laxity, joint instability are drivers for the development in osteoarthritis. It is thought that micro-trauma around the joint activates an immune response causing inflammation. This response triggers degeneration of cartilage and initiates new bone formation (often seen as bone spurs). As a result, the bones of the affected joint begin to rub against each other. This can produce pain, place high stress on the remaining joint cartilage, and can make the entire joint area unstable.
Unlike headaches or back pain, post-traumatic arthritis is not an immediate manifestation after an accident. It takes time for the erosion of the cartilage to occur. Early manifestations may be slight pain and stiffness in the affected area. This will usually increase over time.
To sum up, joint injury triggers a chronic remodeling process in cartilage and other joint tissues that ultimately manifests as osteoarthritis in a majority of the cases. Prevention of an over active inflammatory response may be the key to help reduce the chances of posttraumatic arthritis. Acupuncture is an excellent therapy to help with post-traumatic pain as researchers found that cytokines – molecules that help reduce inflammation – can be stimulated with acupuncture1. Naturopathic medicine aimed to reduce inflammation is also very helpful. Treatments are often tailored to individual’s needs. Common suggested protocol may include curcumin, omega 3s, bromelain.