How Effective is Viscosupplementation in Resolving Knee Pain?

As the number of seniors climbs in the United States, so does the incidence of osteoarthritis, a wear-and-tear type of disease present in more than 10% of all Americans aged 60 and older. Since it’s a degenerative condition that as yet has no cure, treatment often centers around pain management. One of the best ways to maintain mobility and reduce pain from osteoarthritis is remaining active.

This can seem counterintuitive, since pain from the condition tends to keep its sufferers inactive. Physical and occupational therapy can help avoid some of the pain you experience in your knees, but it’s often a matter of “playing through the pain” to best serve the joint, and you’re more likely to cut activity short when osteoarthritis pain reaches certain levels.

The drawbacks of drug therapy

When knee pain is mild and occasional, over-the-counter pain relief can effectively manage your discomfort, but there usually comes a time when these medications are no longer enough. It could be that your body builds a resistance to the effects of the drugs, or that the pain caused by the advancing osteoarthritis overtakes the pain-relief effects.

Prescription medications are the next step, but they’re subject to the same conditions of drug resistance and disease advancement. Stronger drugs also tend to have heavier side effects, and some can create drug dependency. Viscosupplementation offers an alternative that can reduce or eliminate the need for pain medication in some arthritis patients.

Improving knee performance with viscosupplementation

When nonsurgical treatments for knee osteoarthritis have been exhausted, joint replacement surgery becomes necessary. However, some patients aren’t candidates for surgery, and since replacement joints have a finite service expectancy, it may be prudent to delay surgery.

There’s still the need for pain and mobility relief from joint deterioration until surgery is viable. Injecting the knee joint with a gel based on hyaluronic acid is proving effective for some osteoarthritis sufferers. Hyaluronic acid is a natural component of synovial fluid, the viscous liquid that fills the synovium, a tissue shell that surrounds the knee joint.

Those with osteoarthritis typically have reduced levels of synovial fluid and hyaluronic acid concentrations. Viscosupplementation seeks to replace these substances, which typically serve as lubricants and shock absorbers for the knee joints.

The effectiveness of viscosupplementation

The results from viscosupplementation therapy vary widely. Some people report that the injections both reduce pain and improve mobility, but others see no benefit from the treatments. Clinical research is not yet conclusive that viscosupplementation performs better than placebo injections of saline solution.

However, since viscosupplementation is drug-free and has no potential side effects or complications, there’s little downside to trying this therapy as an arthritis treatment. It’s thought that using viscosupplementation in mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis may prove more effective, but further study is needed to confirm this.

To discuss alternatives to drug-based pain management for your osteoarthritis, contact Dr. Siatta Dunbar. As a sports medicine specialist, Dr. Dunbar has expertise in treating joint disorders, minimizing pain, and maximizing mobility. Contact us today, by phone or using the online appointment scheduling tool, to explore viscosupplementation and other options that may be right for you. 

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