If your old ankle injury acts up, you might try everything you can to ease the pain. But if the pain returns time and time again, you might have arthritis in your ankle joints. Arthritis isn't just something that happens to older people. Younger individuals who have previous injuries in their joints can also experience post-traumatic arthritis.

Knowing the facts about post-traumatic arthritis and how it affects your ankle can help you find the right treatments for it. You can also learn how to protect your ankle joints in the future.

What's Post-Traumatic Arthritis?

Post-traumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage covering or lining joints wears down. Although osteoarthritis is often considered an "old age" condition, it can develop in people who have had some type of injury to the joint or its cartilage, such as your ankle injury.

The joints in your ankle allow it to flex and rotate. Injuries, such as sprains, twists, and fractures, can damage the cartilage, ligaments, and other tissues that support your ankle joints. Scar tissue usually forms on the injured tissues during the healing process. Walking, running, and even being overweight can place stress on the healed tissues and aggravate (inflame) them.

Post-traumatic arthritis can produce a number of symptoms, including swelling and pain. Your ankle might even feel "stiff" in the morning or when you sit for an extended amount of time. Some people even experience edema, which causes fluids to build up around the injury and beneath the skin.

The inflammation in your ankle can also affect how you move. For instance, you might hop or limp to avoid placing pressure on your bad ankle. You may also avoid activities that require you to move or use your ankle, such as exercising or shopping. Inactivity can affect your overall health, including your weight and heart.

You can overcome your painful ankle with the right treatment.

How Do You Treat Post-Traumatic Arthritis?

Like other types of arthritis conditions, post-traumatic arthritis and its symptoms will only get worse with time. One of the best things you can do is see a foot and ankle specialist (podiatrist) for care.

A foot and ankle specialist will generally ask questions about your old injury to see if it's the cause of your pain. Some injuries can act up if they don't heal properly, so knowing more about your problem can help a specialist make the best treatment plan for you.

A podiatrist may also perform X-rays, CT scans, and several other tests on your ankle during your visits. The tests can reveal whether or not you have traumatic arthritis or an unhealed injury. If you do have arthritis in your ankle, a specialist can offer treatment for it, which may include surgery to clean or replace the damaged cartilage.

If you don't have traumatic arthritis, a podiatrist can still provide the care you need. However, the exact care and treatment may vary, depending on your injury. If you have concerns, don't hesitate to tell a podiatrist immediately.

After treatment, you can keep both ankles healthy with low-impact exercises. Low-impact exercises allow you to strengthen your ankle joints without placing too much stress on them. These exercises include:

  • Cycling

  • Swimming

  • Tai-Chai

  • Pilates

If you're overweight, you may want to lose a few pounds. Although the joints in your ankles are weight-bearing tissues, the tissues can experience premature wear and tear if they support too much body weight. You may even experience a new injury due to being overweight.

To learn more about post-traumatic arthritis or your treatment options, contact the experts at East Village Foot & Ankle Surgeons for an appointment.