Is it Arthritis or an Injury?: March 22, 2017
Unfortunately, as we get older we are at a higher risk for developing arthritis and having a bone injury. Both can cause joint pain and swelling making it difficult to determine if it’s arthritis or an injury.
Dr. Francesca Swartz, an orthopedic surgeon on the medical staff at Lee Health, says arthritis is actually the change of the cartilage surface inside the joint. “It happens inside all of our joints. It goes from being a smooth surface that glides easily and without pain, to a surface that’s more like sandpaper, which causes more friction and more swelling.”
But those same symptoms could also be a sign of an injury. The most common injury is a meniscus tear. “The other kind of cartilage on the inside of the knee is the meniscus. It’s this c-shaped shock absorber, one on the inside and one on the outside. It helps to protect the thigh bone from the shin bone,” said Dr. Swartz.
Patients who have arthritis are at risk for developing a meniscus tear. Patients who have a meniscus tear will eventually develop arthritis. “It depends on the joint you’re talking about, but inside the joint are many pain generating structures. So inside the knee it could be the meniscus or the ACL, in addition to arthritis, inside the hip joint it could be the labrum or arthritis, and inside the shoulder it could be the rotator cuff, in addition to or instead of arthritis,” said Dr. Swartz.
The biggest hurdle is finding what’s causing the patient pain: arthritis or an injury? If tests show the patient has arthritis and an injury, doctors will treat the injury first. “Sometimes it’s better to treat the symptoms of a meniscus tear with injections and therapy because we don’t know how much pain comes from the meniscus tear and how much comes from the arthritis,” said Dr. Swartz.
The goal is to find what treatment helps alleviate the patient’s pain.