Last updated: November 5, 2014

ICD-9 Code: Multiple sites, 991.3; hand, 991.1; foot, 991.2.

Definition: Frostbite injury to the extremities can result in vascular damage and thrombi with associated chondrocyte damage. As a result, patients with frostbite may develop osteoarthritis (OA) months or even years after exposure.

Cardinal Findings: Frostbite injury tends to occur in the distal extremities, particularly in the hands and feet. Findings of OA related to frostbite may resemble primary (e.g., Heberden and Bouchard nodes) or erosive OA. In children, frostbite exposure may result in premature closure of the epiphyses and impaired growth, usually of the fingers.

Imaging: Typical radiographic findings include demineralization, periostitis, subchondral (juxtaarticular) cysts, joint space narrowing, and formation of osteophytes.

Therapy: Because the signs and symptoms of frostbite arthritis develop some time after exposure, there is no specific therapy for this condition. Therapy is comparable with that for idiopathic OA.

Glick R, Parhami N. Frostbite arthritis. J Rheumatol 1979;6:456–460.PMID:522094

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