CHICAGO September 15, 2012 - To ease the discomfort of osteoarthritis weight loss, exercise, pain relievers such as ibuprofen, and corticosteroid injections have long been recommended. The new-ish kid on the arthritis treatment block, particularly for the knee joint, is viscosupplementation.
The “Wear and Tear” Arthritis
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It results from wear or tear of the cartilage that cushions the joint movement between bones. This condition can occur as part of the aging process and be the effect of cartilage overuse or damage.
When the cartilage wears away one bone rubs against another, bone spurs (growths) can develop along the joint’s edges, and the bones may harden (sclerosis). As the area becomes inflamed swelling and pain are experienced by the joint’s user.
A Peek at the Procedure
This treatment was used in Asia and Europe several years before it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1997 (for the knee only).
The viscosupplementation procedure involves the injection of hyaluronic acid into the patient’s knee joint. Adding hyaluronic acid effectively dulls discomfort in two ways. It acts as a shock absorber against weight-load pressure, and permits bones to move over each other smoothly.
Hyaluronic acid is a natural element in our body’s synovial, or joint fluid, but those who suffer from osteoarthritis have below-normal levels of this acid swimming in their synovial pools. Viscosupplementation simply increases the hyaluronic level to what it should be.
Patients typically receive three to five shots of hyaluronic acid over several weeks. If necessary, the doctor will aspirate excess fluid from the joint before giving the viscosupplementation injection.
The injection does not provide immediate relief from arthritis discomfort. Patients may experience a local reaction to the procedure such as minor swelling, pain, or a warm sensation. Applying ice packs to the treated area is recommended to ease the injection reaction.
Patients are told to avoid unnecessary standing, weight-bearing exercise, or heavy lifting for 48 after the procedure. This provides an added benefit. Patients can be couch potatoes for a couple days without the killjoy of guilt.
Many people notice less joint pain over the course of their injections, and the relief may last for several months. The hyaluronic acid is considered an anti-inflammatory substance, and the injections may entice the body to increase its own production of hyaluronic joint-soothing acid.
Research continues to investigate this procedure, and its long-term effectiveness is unknown. Viscosupplementation is most helpful with mild to moderate, early stage osteoarthritis. It is a choice for patients whose joint discomfort is not responding to other methods of pain relief.
To learn more about osteoarthritis treatments check out the wealth of information at Healthline.com.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
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