Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is a debilitating and painful condition with no known cure. OA is also sometimes called “wear and tear arthritis.” The condition has a number of causes, some of which are preventable and some which are not. Repetitive stress is a common contributor to OA, but heredity can also play a role. Risk of developing OA increases with age.
OA is a progressive condition. Synovial fluid, which acts as a natural lubricant between bones and cartilage, becomes depleted over time. Cartilage wears away in the knee joint, causing bones to rub against each other. Bone spurs (outgrowths of bone that appear at joints) then start to develop. Early-stage sufferers are often completely asymptomatic. Tiny bone spurs typically do not cause any pain and can only be diagnosed by X-rays or MRI scans. By the time a patient is feeling significant pain, bone spurs have grown large.
Unfortunately, many individuals do not seek treatment until the advanced stages of OA, at which point the intensity of pain interferes with normal everyday activity such as walking or performing light work tasks. The problem is compounded by the fact that doctors often prescribe painkillers or steroids for OA—neither of which addresses the root issue. A side consequence of this treatment approach: bone spur growth continues to worsen because the painkiller-induced numbness creates the illusory feeling that everything is fine.
Treatment for Advanced Osteoarthritis
When painkillers and steroids are no longer effective for alleviating knee pain and keeping up daily routines, there are a number of different options for treatment. At this stage, many patients elect for knee replacement surgery. Since surgery is the riskiest approach to treating OA, patients often pursue various non-surgical alternatives. Viscosupplementation is a safe and proven technique that has helped many patients avoid knee surgery. This procedure has been in use in the United States since 1997.
Viscosupplementation involves injecting the knee joints with a gel called hyaluronic acid, a naturally-occurring compound found in synovial fluid. While this procedure does not reverse the underlying condition, it is a safer alternative to relieving the symptoms of OA than painkillers, steroids or surgery. The gel acts as a cushion and lubricant to absorb shock and keep knee bones separate, preventing further deterioration and bone spur growth. This method does not provide instant pain relief, but over time, viscosupplementation patients are often able to stop taking medication altogether.
If you are suffering from knee pain and would like to explore alternatives to pain medication and surgery, viscosupplementation may be a viable option.
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