Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition that affects many of us as a result of aging and wear and tear. Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis and is in fact often referred to as 'wear and tear' arthritis because of the nature of the condition. It involves the gradual deterioration of the cartilage between joints.
As this natural cushioning is slowly destroyed, the joints experience greater friction and impact as a result of which individuals begin to experience severe joint pain, inflammation, stiffness and a lack of mobility in the joint.
AdvertisementOsteoarthritis most commonly affects the knees and is the common form of arthritis to affect this specific joint. Although it is a degenerative disease that tends to occur with aging, it isn't just restricted to individuals past the age of 50, but it can also affect young adults. The risk is obviously higher as you age, especially once you enter your late forties and it's also more common in women as compared to men. The risk of osteoarthritis increases not just with age but also with body weight, as this increases pressure on the joints, especially the knees. A family history of the disease and repetitive stress injuries can also greatly increase the risk of osteoarthritis of the knees. The condition also tends to develop in those already afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis.
Limitations of Present TreatmentTreatment for knee osteoarthritis is presently aimed at reducing knee pain and other symptoms and improving mobility. It involves behavioral modifications to improve the quality of life with weight loss, exercise and physiotherapy. Patients also often need to use orthopedic braces and supports to reduce pressure on the joint. Treatment may also require administration of corticosteroid injections into the knees, but this can only be done periodically because of the risk of damage from too many of these injections. Surgical methods like arthroscopy, anosteotomy and arthroplasty are fairly effective, but as is the case with any surgical procedure they do present certain risks, which can vary from procedure to procedure. The results can also vary considerably and recovery from surgery is a again a lengthy procedure. With the exception of surgical joint replacement, none of these treatments can actually cure the condition.
A Novel Solution to the ProblemMedical researchers have long been searching for less invasive ways to provide relief and treat patients suffering from knee arthritis. Viscosupplementation may be just the solution that the medical establishment has been looking for. To understand how it works you need to first understand the mechanism of the knee joint. In a healthy adult, the knee contains about 2 milliliters of synovial fluid and a hyaluronic acid concentration of 2.5 to 4.0 milligrams per milliliter. The concentration of hyaluronic acid determines the viscosity and the elasticity of the synovial fluid. Hyaluronic acid concentrations in the joints of osteoarthritis patients are one third to one half lower than that of the general population. This consequently affects joint motility as reduced viscosity and elasticity means that the joint is not well lubricated, making it more susceptible to injury.
What's the Solution?The solution is to increase the viscosity of the synovial fluid through the injecting of hyaluronic acid into the joint, hence the name of the treatment - viscosupplementation. The treatment is aimed at preventing further damage and deterioration of the cartilage and the joint, as such damage is irreversible. In severe cases where there has already been considerable damage to the joint, knee replacement surgery remains the best and most effective solution. This is not the best option for younger adults and athletes however as it would destroy their careers. Viscosupplementation therefore offers the greatest hope to knee osteoarthritis patients who have recently developed the condition and in cases where the condition is still mild. In such cases viscosupplementation may help to prevent or at the very least delay further degeneration of the joint.
Researchers still aren't completely sure of how hyaluronic acid injections work and it is possible that the injections may even stimulate the body's own production of hyaluronic acid. Viscosupplementation has also been found to reduce inflammation in the joint and may even offer protection to the chondrocytes, the cartilage cells. This treatment is ideal for patients who cannot take NSAIDs or have found conventional non-surgical treatments to be ineffective. The treatment can effectively restore or improve knee function in those with mild osteoarthritis and could be used to delay joint replacement surgery in patients with advanced osteoarthritis.
Risk of ComplicationsAs with most medical procedures there is some risk of complications but in the case of viscosupplementation these risks are minimal. Mild side effects like warmth and inflammation at the site of the injection may be observed for a couple of days but this is temporary. Injections to the knee do pose some risk of infection and as the procedure requires multiple injections the risk rises. In rare cases there may be sever joint inflammation and other symptoms similar to those of septic arthritis.