Car Accidents and Post-Traumatic Arthritis

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If you are involved in a car accident, you have a lot to cope with. The insurance company, police, medical professionals and others all want to talk to you about the incident and your claim. You need to keep a thorough and accurate record of any injuries, and how they are affecting you. While some injuries may be obvious at the time, others may take a while to manifest. Among late-appearing injuries after a car accident, one of the more common is post-traumatic arthritis. In this article, we’ll explain what post-traumatic arthritis is, and how it can affect a car accident injury claim.  

What is Post-Traumatic Arthritis?

Post traumatic arthritis is a form of osteoarthritis (deterioration of joint cartilage) that can result from some kind of trauma to joints like knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hips. The primary injury occurs at these joints, and then later on a debilitating form of osteoarthritis can develop in the same area (hence the “post-traumatic” moniker, meaning post-injury).

How does this happen? If the joints, the ligaments or any supporting muscles receive a trauma, the surrounding cartilage can deteriorate and wear away. As a result, the bones of the affected joint begin to rub against each other. This can produce serious pain, place high stress on the remaining joint cartilage, and can make the entire joint area unstable.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Arthritis

Post-traumatic arthritis is not an immediate manifestation of a traumatic incident such as a car crash. It takes time for the erosion of the cartilage to occur. Early manifestations may be slight pain and stiffness in the affected area, particularly after a time of inactivity -- first thing in the morning, for example. This will usually increase over time. Overall, the indications of post traumatic arthritis are the same as those for standard osteoarthritis, and they include:

  • pain in the affected area -- sometimes felt at rest, and sometimes felt only during movement
  • tenderness of the joint -- varying in severity, sometimes felt when the patient is at rest, sometimes only when pressure is applied at the joint  
  • joint stiffness and instability
  • loss of range of motion and loss of flexibility, and
  • a “bone-on-bone” grating sensation in the affected joint.

Post-Traumatic Arthritis and Car Accident Injury Claims

What does all of this have to do with a car accident injury claim? Well, even a seemingly minor car accident can provide significant initial trauma to a joint (such as a shoulder or knee) to cause damage to that area of the body. What may only be felt or diagnosed as a sprain can later turn into osteoarthritis at the affected joint. The result can be loss of mobility, stiffness, pain, and the other symptoms discussed above. And these complications can be long-lasting, even permanent. There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are a number of effective treatments that can manage the problem.

So, if you’re making a claim for injury after a car accident, you need to make sure that all of the health problems stemming from the accident have been identified and have been made a part of your claim. Otherwise, later on if you develop post-traumatic arthritis, and it turns out that it’s connected to injuries suffered in the car accident, you can’t go back and ask for more compensation if you’ve already signed a release and received your settlement.

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