PURPOSE OF REVIEW: The recent literature on the factors that initiate and accelerate the progression of osteoarthritis following ligament injuries and their treatment is reviewed. RECENT FINDINGS: The ligament-injured joint is at high risk for osteoarthritis. Current conservative (e.g. rehabilitation) and surgical (e.g. reconstruction) treatment options appear not to reduce osteoarthritis following ligament injury. The extent of osteoarthritis does not appear dependent on which joint is affected, or the presence of damage to other tissues within the joint. Mechanical instability is the likely initiator of osteoarthritis in the ligament-injured patient. SUMMARY: The mechanism osteoarthritis begins with the injury rendering the joint unstable. The instability increases the sliding between the joint surfaces and reduces the efficiency of the muscles, factors that alter joint contact mechanics. The load distribution in the cartilage and underlying bone is disrupted, causing wear and increasing shear, which eventually leads to the osteochondral degeneration. The catalyst to the mechanical process is the inflammation response induced by the injury and sustained during healing. In contrast, the inflammation could be responsible for onset, while the mechanical factors accelerate progression. The mechanisms leading to osteoarthritis following ligament injury have not been fully established. A better understanding of these mechanisms should lead to alternative surgical, drug, and tissue-engineering treatment options, which could eliminate osteoarthritis in these patients. Progress is being made on all fronts. Considering that osteoarthritis is likely to occur despite current treatment options, the best solution may be prevention.