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Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that affects approximately 32.5 million adults in the United States.

It is often the result of long-term wear and tear as the cartilage within a joint breaks down, and the underlying bone changes.

Osteoarthritis can take several years to develop. That’s why it is more commonly seen in adults over the age of 50.

But when an injury occurs, you can develop post-traumatic osteoarthritis, or PTOA. This happens regardless of your age or the wear and tear on a joint.

Read on to learn more about how post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) develops, symptoms and treatments, and FAQs about the condition.

Post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA) is a form of osteoarthritis that develops after joint injury. In fact, it accounts for a significant percentage of end-stage osteoarthritis.

There are several injuries that can cause PTOA. However, it is most often triggered by common sports injuries such as:

  • acute ligament strain
  • chronic ligamentous instability
  • ACL rupture
  • meniscus injury
  • fracture
  • cartilage damage
  • or a combination of these

Additionally, some research shows that genetic influences factor into the development of PTOA, especially in knee injuries.

PTOA is more common at a younger age, especially in healthier and more active individuals. Because PTOA has an earlier onset, it is often more debilitating than traditional osteoarthritis, which typically develops later in life.

Osteoarthritis, also called wear and tear arthritis, happens from overuse, natural degeneration of cartilage from aging, or a trauma. It is the most common type of arthritis.

PTOA accounts for 12 percent of all cases of symptomatic osteoarthritis. However, research indicates the prevalence and incidence of PTOA continues to rise.

PTOA often impacts the ankle joint. It can also affect the knee and — less frequently — the shoulder and hip.

When it affects the knee, it’s most commonly related to a rupture, meniscal injury, or dislocation.

In the shoulder, PTOA often develops after a dislocation. If PTOA develops in the hip, it’s often related to a fracture.


Post-traumatic osteoarthritis accounts for 12 percent of symptomatic osteoarthritis cases. It is most common in the knee and ankle joint, but can also affect the shoulder and hip.

The time it takes to develop PTOA can be as short as 6 to 12 months or as long as 10 to 20 years.

Again, it depends on the initial injury. For example, a severe fracture may cause PTOA to develop sooner than a ligament injury.

PTOA can last a lifetime. What starts as inflammation after an injury can turn into a chronic or pathological condition and, eventually, osteoarthritis.

This can result in a lifelong battle with osteoarthritis. While the damage to the joints can’t be reversed, your doctor can recommend treatment that helps manage the symptoms.

It can take a few months to several years for PTOA symptoms to surface. But when they do, you’ll know it.

Some of the more common symptoms of PTOA include:

Diagnosing PTOA can be tricky. In fact, most cases are not clinically diagnosed until symptoms begin, which can be anywhere from 1 to 20 years after the injury.

Your doctor will likely make a diagnosis based on the following criteria:

They will ask about the injury or trauma in the joint and may also use specific biomarkers to determine if PTOA has developed.

Fortunately, unlike traditional osteoarthritis, there is a particular injurious event or starting point to work from that may help your doctor apply targeted treatments.

However, early intervention does not always happen, so it can take several months to years for a diagnosis.

When a diagnosis is made, the treatment plan to manage PTOA depends on your symptoms, severity, your age, and activity level.

In general, treatment of PTOA focuses on anti-inflammatory therapeutic interventions. This may include medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesics.

Intra-articular injections like corticosteroid injections and hyaluronic acid injections are another option for managing symptoms. Exercise and physical therapy may help reduce the severity of your symptoms.

In severe cases, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure such as joint replacement, cartilage grafting, or realignment, but this depends on your age.

PTOA is prevalent after knee injuries such as ACL rupture.

In fact, one study shows that young adults with a history of knee injuries from sports present with more symptoms and a higher prevalence of PTOA.

Moreover, PTOA is chronic and progressive after an ACL injury. The changes in the knee joint, especially at the late stages, are often irreversible, and arthroplasty may be the only treatment option. That’s why early detection, whenever possible, is so critical.

Unfortunately, the way to prevent PTOA progression is unclear, and the number of people with PTOA after an ACL injury remains high.

This is partly due to the complexity of ACL injury progression to PTOA. However, a lack of accessible and sensitive diagnostic methods and limitations of current treatments also plays a role.

Meniscus injuries, especially when untreated, also increase the risk of PTOA. Early interventions with surgical repair for a meniscus injury are intended to relieve pain, but they may also inhibit the development of PTOA.

However, scientists believe more innovative efforts are needed for effective meniscus repair surgeries to have a significant impact on PTOA.

Can post-traumatic arthritis go away?

Post-traumatic arthritis can go away, but it depends on a variety of factors. For example, some people experience symptoms for a few months after an injury or trauma but recover shortly after the initial trauma.

However, if you experience symptoms for over 6 months, you may be dealing with a chronic condition. This can lead to osteoarthritis, a long-term disease that cannot be reversed.

Is post-traumatic arthritis the same as osteoarthritis?

When post-traumatic arthritis persists for longer than 6 months, it’s considered chronic or pathological. This is an inflammatory condition that is often diagnosed as post-traumatic osteoarthritis, or PTOA.

Can I prevent post-traumatic osteoarthritis?

The research is mixed on whether you can delay or even prevent post-traumatic osteoarthritis. It’s the result of joint trauma. In some people, the inflammatory events in the initial phase after the injury will lead to osteoarthritis.

However, researchers are exploring secondary prevention of PTOA after a joint injury by understanding who is at risk and how to mitigate potentially modifiable risk factors.

The path from injury to post-traumatic osteoarthritis is complex. Trauma to a certain joint does not necessarily mean PTOA will occur. Various factors, including genetics, contribute to the development of PTOA.

Even after the initial injury heals and symptoms subside, you can still develop PTOA several months or years later. That’s why early intervention is ideal.

Ultimately, the best course of action is to stay in touch with your treatment team after a joint injury and to let them know if symptoms persist or get worse over time.