Osteoarthritis is the highest occurring joint disorder in the United States, affecting nearly 27 million people. Osteoarthritis in the knee alone affects 10 percent of men and 13 percent of women over 60. It often develops slowly, and the pain can worsen over time.

With so many people suffering from osteoarthritis, it is important to understand the wide range of treatments available. While osteoarthritis is not curable, there are effective treatment options available that can noticeably improve and manage pain. One of those options is viscosupplementation. Below we answer some of the most common questions associated with osteoarthritis and viscosupplementation.

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic pain and most commonly occurs in the knees. As opposed to acute or temporary pain that can be caused by the inflammation of a joint – typically as a result of an immune response from the body – osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. It is a byproduct of aging and use over time. With aging, the profile of the cartilage in the body shifts. The water content of the cartilage increases while the proteins that make up the cartilage slowly degenerate. As a result, the cartilage begins to deteriorate and wear away.

Cartilage serves as a connecting point and soft buffer between the surface of your bones. When the cartilage begins to wear away, that buffer starts to get frayed or thinned out, providing less protection and stability to the affected joint. As the cartilage fades or degenerates, friction between the bones increases. This results in pain and a loss in the total range of motion of that joint. With that, the damage to the cartilage may cause the growth of bone spurs around the joints, resulting in more pain and further limiting the range of motion of the joint.

What is viscosupplementation?

Viscosupplementation can significantly reduce pain while improving the mobility and function of the joint to make activities of daily living and even athletic or strenuous exercise less painful.

Viscosupplementation is a procedure that involves injecting hyaluronic acid, a gel-like fluid, directly into the joint. Hyaluronic acid is found naturally in the synovial fluid surrounding the joints to reduce friction during movement. The injection goes into effect by lubricating the joint and assisting the synovial fluid to create more cushion. This works to reduce pain and improve the range of motion or the mobility of the joint.

When is it a treatment option?

There are several tests that your orthopaedic doctor will administer to confirm the condition and the level to which the osteoarthritis has progressed. Depending on the case and the patient, treatment options may include:

  • Acetaminophen
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Cortisone injections

Depending on your orthopaedist’s findings and their plan for treatment, they may recommend viscosupplementation as a viable option for treating the pain and symptoms of your osteoarthritis. Viscosupplementation will usually be considered as a treatment option once other treatment options have been exhausted.

What happens during a treatment?

During a viscosupplementation treatment, your doctor will administer between three and five injections to the affected area. These will typically be injected one week apart from each other.

While not all patients experience relief with viscosupplementation, many patients report feeling a decrease in pain over the course of a three- to five-week period after the injections are administered. Patients report that the most significant level of pain relief comes two to three months after the first injection.

Depending on the patient, the length of pain relief will vary. Patients often report improvement of symptoms for six months or more after the treatment.

As with other types of injections, patients who receive viscosupplementation generally report feeling slight pain at the site of the injection. Swelling, heat, itchiness and bruising around the joint can also occur.

Who does viscosupplementation injections in the Raleigh area?

At Cary Orthopaedics, our physicians seek to treat patients without surgery whenever possible. Viscosupplementation injections serve as a minimally invasive treatment option for many patients who experience pain related to osteoarthritis. Viscosupplementation is just one of the many options we offer for the effective treatment of osteoarthritis pain.

To learn more about viscosupplementation and to find out if you are a candidate for treatment, contact us today.