What can happen if I hurt a joint?


What can happen if I hurt a joint ?


Injuries like a dislocation, torn cartilage or a fractured bone in or near a joint increase the risk of arthritis later affecting that joint.

Such injuries are common for people who injure their joints while playing sports.  Football, rugby, basketball and netball are sports where such injuries are common.  The knee is the joint that most commonly develops osteoarthritis after a sporting injury.

(See Injury Prevention and Management to find out what happens when we injure a joint, how we can prevent injuries, and how to treat them.)


What can go wrong with joints? 


A joint disorder is termed an arthropathy and when involving inflammation of one or more joints the disorder is called arthritis.  Arthritis means joint (arthr) inflammation (itis). Arthritis can occur at any age.  The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


 What is osteoarthritis?


The name “Osteoarthritis” comes from three Greek words meaning bone, joint and inflammation.  OA is also known as degenerative joint disease which involves the gradual breakdown of the cartilage (protective cushion) that covers the ends of the bones where they meet to form a joint. This degeneration happens primarily in weight bearing joints like knees and hips.  It may occur following trauma to a joint, following infection, or simply as a result of ageing.  It also results in the development of bony spurs and cysts at the margins of the joint.  Pieces of cartilage may break off into the synovial fluid in the joint space.  The joint then becomes sore and inflamed. Over time, the cartilage thins and may even break down to leave the bones unprotected.  As a result, the joint cannot move smoothly.  As the disorder progresses, deformation of the bones and fluid accumulation in the joints causes pain.


Osteoarthritis is an ancient disease.  In 1986, an anthropological dig in South America discovered mummies that showed evidence of osteoarthritis.  They were over 3000 years old.


What is rheumatoid arthritis?


Rheumatoid arthritis affects the synovial membrane that surrounds the joint.  For reasons not fully understood, the body’s immune system attacks (autoimmune disease) the membrane causing inflammation and an over production of synovial fluid.  The membrane is invaded by white blood cells, which produce a variety of destructive chemicals.  The cartilage along the articular surfaces of the bones may be attacked and destroyed. This process causes joints to become swollen and painful.  If the process continues, damage to the cartilage can cause joint deformities. Other problems) throughout the body (systemic problems) may also develop including inflammation of blood vessels, the development of bumps (rheumatoid nodules) in various parts of the body, lung disease, blood disorders and weakening of the bones (osteoporosis).


What kinds of arthritis affect children and adolescents?


The most common forms of arthritis affecting the younger population  are collectively known as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.  ‘Juvenile’, in this context, refers to an onset before age 16, ‘Idiopathic’ refers to a condition with no defined cause and ‘Arthritis’ is the inflammation of the synovium of a joint.  JIA may be transient and self-limited (meaning it resolves) or chronic (lasting a long time). With proper care, some children do improve with time and lead fulfilling lives.  With early diagnosis and management involving a team of health professionals, outcomes have improved significantly.  A child with JIA should be encouraged to undertake regular exercise to improve muscle strength and joint mobility (swimming is an excellent exercise as it reduces force on joints).  A physiotherapist would be able to guide you as to what exercises to do.  Joint stiffness and swelling can also be reduced with the application of cold-packs.  A warm bath or shower will help reduce joint stiffness. See our special section on Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis or to go to Arthritis and Osteoporosis WA.  .


 What can children with arthritis do?


An Occupational Therapist (OT) will often be involved in a child’s management to assist them to participate as fully and independently in their daily activities. OT’s work very closely with the child and also involve their teacher/school and family to establish an individualised plan which is based on the child’s condition, limitations, strengths and goals.  This team approach means that children with arthritis can do most things that their peers can. It is imperative that the child follows the advice given by their medical team.  Common recommendations to make school-life more manageable include correct height desks and chairs, pencils and pens with larger, softer grips and allowing extra time for assignments.


Why do some kids with arthritis wear splints?


Arthritis can cause a joint to rest in a way that it shouldn’t (deformity) or move in a way that is uncomfortable.  Splints keep joints affected by arthritis in a good position. Splints can also be an assistive device allowing the child to perform activities more easily.


Why do some people develop arthritis (OA)?


Just like we wouldn’t expect our first car to continue running smoothly over a lifetime, it is expected that our joints will show some wear and tear as we age.  This is normal.  However, for many reasons, such as sporting injuries/high impact sports when younger, manual jobs, some people develop increased or early wear and tear and the affected joints become painful and swollen. 


Is there a cure for arthritis?


Currently there is no cure for arthritis.  However, if you have arthritis there are many ways in which you can manage it so you can lead a normal life.  These include special exercises and learning how to do things so you don’t hurt your joints.


Artificial joints are now able to replace some joints which have stopped functioning. If you would like to do some virtual surgery visit this site:  Even though this is an animated procedure, it is not for those people who don’t like watching surgery.



What can happen if I hurt a joint?


Injuries like a dislocation, torn cartilage or a fractured bone in or near a joint increase the risk of arthritis later affecting that joint. Football, rugby, basketball and netball are sports where such injuries are common. The knee is the joint that most commonly develops osteoarthritis after sporting injuries.

(See Injury Prevention and Management to find out what happens when a joint is injured, how we can prevent injuries, and how to manage them.)


buckle-tear-of-cartilage-in-knee Tear-of-medial-meniscu
             MRI scan torn knee cartilage                      Photo of torn knee cartilage


Knee after arthroscopic (key-hole) surgery