Can trauma to a joint cause arthritis?


Yes, trauma can cause arthritis. However, it's probably more accurate to say trauma is a risk factor for arthritis, because not everyone with trauma gets arthritis and most people with arthritis cannot blame it on an injury.

Any significant injury or repeated trauma that damages bone near the joint or cartilage (the smooth lining of the joint) can lead to arthritis. It may take years for the arthritis to show up, however. For example, a common sports-related injury is torn cartilage in the knee. While this type of injury is often treated with minor surgery that allows a return to action within a number of weeks or months, these athletes are at risk for osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint disease) years later. Similarly, osteoarthritis is a likely consequence of any fracture in which the break involves the joint. A fracture some distance from the joint is less likely to cause osteoarthritis.

It is harder to know whether more minor, repetitive trauma is the cause of a person's arthritis. Jackhammer operators are said to have an increased risk of developing wrist arthritis but, again, it doesn't seem to affect everyone with that job. What about assembly line workers, cashiers, or even people typing all day on their computers? The role of this sort of repetitive motion in causing arthritis is much less clear. Finally, the cause of most arthritis is unknown and may well be the result of more than one cause. For example, people with an inherited tendency to develop osteoarthritis may require only minor trauma to develop the disease; another person without a family history of arthritis might be less likely to suffer with the disease despite significant injury.

For those cases in which a cause of arthritis can be found, trauma is the most common culprit. Protecting the joint from trauma by wearing protective gear or, perhaps, through improved conditioning and training may reduce the risk of arthritis.


What should I do if my child breaks a bone or dislocates a joint?


A broken bone or dislocated joint is a serious injury that requires a doctor's immediate attention. The best thing you can do is protect the injured area, making sure your child doesn't worsen the damage.

Fractures are breaks, cracks, or chips in a bone. A fractured bone that pierces through the skin is called an open fracture. Because of bleeding and the risk of infection, open fractures are the most potentially dangerous. Fortunately, closed fractures, which do not break the skin, are the most common kind. A dislocation occurs when the bone slips out of its normal place in the joint.

Three Important Cautions:

  • Never attempt to straighten or change the position of a dislocated joint or broken bone. You could make the injury worse.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, don't move your child if you suspect a broken neck, back, or pelvis; call 911 immediately. Keep your child still and wait for medical assistance.
  • Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately if your child shows symptoms of shock or of internal bleeding:
    • weak, rapid, or irregular pulse
    • clammy or bluish skin
    • rapid, shallow breathing
    • confusion, anxiety, or loss of consciousness
    • coughing up or vomiting blood
    • visible head, chest, or abdominal wounds