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Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects over 32.5 million adults in the United States.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective tissue within a joint breaks down. This results in pain, stiffness, swelling, and decreased range of motion. It develops over time, usually affecting adults over 50.

Post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA), however, can occur regardless of your age or the health of the joint, because it occurs after injury. For that reason, PTOA is common among younger and active populations.

Read on to learn more about how long it takes for PTOA to develop and what can be done about it.

PTOA is caused by acute direct trauma to a joint. Common causes of acute trauma to a joint include sports injuries, vehicle accidents, a fall, or military injuries.

PTOA makes up 12% of osteoarthritis cases with the ankle being the most affected joint. The knee is the second most affected area, but PTOA can occur in any body joint.

Development of PTOA after an injury can vary. Diagnosis is dependent on symptoms that can occur within a year or show up 10 to 20 years later.

Regardless of the time span, it’s believed that osteoarthritis develops at the moment of initial trauma to the joint, with changes in cartilage and joint structure that occur immediately.

PTOA can last a few months.

If symptoms continue for longer than 6 months, it becomes a chronic issue that must be managed throughout your life.

PTOA can be treated through conservative means such as physical therapy, low impact exercise, lifestyle changes, or the use of a brace.

Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed to help alleviate pain.

On rare occasions, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is the last option if your quality of life is severely affected by your arthritis.

There are several possible types of surgery for PTOA. Debridement is when the surgeon removes damaged tissue or reshapes the bone.

Joint fusion or arthrodesis is when a plate or screws are added to keep the joint’s bones together. This can result in less pain but limited flexibility and movement.

Joint replacement or arthroplasty is when an artificial joint usually constructed of metal, ceramic, or plastic replaces the damaged joint.

A 2016 study concluded that anti-inflammatory therapy and lifestyle changes during the acute stage of an injury can prevent the onset of chronic PTOA.

Low impact exercise focusing on gentle mobility and joint stability may also help.

It’s vital to keep moving safely and within reason during any phase of healing. A healthier lifestyle, adequate sleep, management of stress, and healthy eating are all essential components to aid in healing.

PTOA occurs from a direct traumatic force on the joint and isn’t limited to mature adults. It’s more common among younger and more physically active individuals.

Structural change occurs immediately but symptoms and diagnosis can occur later. PTOA can last a few months and disappear on its own with conservative treatments or show up 10–20 years after the acute injury.

It’s best to consult with your healthcare professional for the best course of treatment to minimize pain and keep you moving for years to come.