Is Viscosupplementation Right For You?

If you have knee pain that is significant enough to affect your everyday life, you are probably looking for ways to alleviate that pain. Over the course of looking for ways to get rid of your knee pain, you have probably come across something called viscosupplementation. Viscosupplementation is the process of injecting hyaluronic acid into your joint to reduce pain and swelling. While this may sound promising, how do you know if viscosupplementation is truly right for you?

How does viscosupplementation work?

For starters, it may be helpful to understand a little about how viscosupplementation works, specifically why hyaluronic acid needs to be injected in your knee joint. In a healthy knee joint, each bone that makes up the joint is covered with a cap of cartilage, which is a firm connective tissue that contains hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is basically the fluid that lubricates your joints and absorbs shock. 

After years of lubricating the joint and absorbing shock, however, the cartilage cap will eventually begin to break down and cause the bones in the joint to rub against one another causing pain and inflammation. This is known as osteoarthritis or “wear and tear” arthritis. In a knee joint affected by osteoarthritis, there is a lower amount of hyaluronic acid in the joint than there should be. Therefore, viscosupplementation is used to replenish the amount of hyaluronic acid in an arthritic joint. In order to deliver the hyaluronic acid into the joint, it must be injected into the knee joint’s synovial fluid. By replenishing the amount of hyaluronic acid in the synovial fluid, the aim is to reduce pain and facilitate normal joint motion. In some cases, it can also encourage the body to produce more of its own hyaluronic acid. 

Is it right for me?

Viscosupplementation is generally used to treat individuals who have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee. However, your orthopaedist may recommend other treatments such as: changing your activity level, losing weight, taking pain relievers like acetaminophen or NSAIDs, physical therapy, or corticosteroid injections before trying viscosupplementation. Generally speaking, viscosupplementation is reserved for individuals with mild to moderate osteoarthritis who have tried a variety of other treatments with no luck. It is also reserved for those who cannot undergo surgery or as a last resort before knee replacement surgery. Unfortunately, those with severe osteoarthritis that has resulted in bone on bone contact, will usually require more aggressive treatments, such as a knee replacement. 

This is because viscosupplementation requires enough synovial fluid within the joint for the best treatment outcomes. Unfortunately, with severe cases of osteoarthritis, there is little to no synovial fluid within the joints, meaning that the hyaluronic acid won’t be effective. Still, even in cases where viscosupplementation cases are successful, it may take several weeks or a coupe months after the injection to feel relief. In some rare cases, pain relief may be felt shortly after the first injection. To keep the results from fading, it is recommended that you receive viscosupplementation injections about every six months. 

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