Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in our country. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which affects an estimated 31 million Americans. Osteoarthritis is a gradual breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Resulting from wear and overuse, it can severely impact a person’s lifestyle. There is no cure for this disease, but the good news is that there are many treatment options available to help manage pain and keep you active. In the early stages of arthritis, your doctor may recommend changing your activity level, wearing a brace, weight loss, or over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. As arthritis progresses and symptoms worsen, an injection may help alleviate pain in your joints and allow you to continue with activities.
Injection of a corticosteroid is commonly used for relief of arthritis pain, as well as other inflammatory conditions such as bursitis and tendinitis. It is more effective than taking an oral anti-inflammatory because it is localized to that joint. The injection may provide pain relief for a period of time, generally anywhere from six weeks to six months. It may take a few days for the benefits of the injection to take effect. There are no treatments that can repair damaged cartilage or slow the progression of arthritis, but corticosteroids are often very effective in relieving pain so you can continue activities.
Commonly referred to as “gel shots” or “gel injections,” viscosupplementation is a procedure where hyaluronic acid is injected into the knee joint. Hyaluronic acid is naturally occurring substance found in the synovial fluid surrounding the joints. Some, but not all, patients benefit from this treatment and get relief from arthritis symptoms. The hyaluronic acid acts as a lubricant and shock absorber. If the injections are effective, they may be repeated after a period of time when arthritis symptoms return.
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)
Research is still being done on the effectiveness of PRP in the treatment of arthritis, although it has received a lot of publicity in recent years. Many famous athletes have used this treatment and attribute it to returning to their sport more quickly. Platelet-rich plasma is concentrated blood plasma that contains five to ten times the number of platelets found in blood. Platelets are very important to healing injuries, so in theory, PRP can speed up the healing process. More research needs to be done before the medical community can determine if PRP is effective in treating osteoarthritis. However, some patients report pain relief after the procedure. Even though the success of PRP is still uncertain, the risks associated with it are minimal. If you are considering trying PRP, check with your health insurance carrier before receiving treatment. Most insurance plans do not cover this treatment.
When you are discussing treatment options for osteoarthritis with your doctor, keep in mind that results can vary dramatically from patient to patient. As medical research continues to develop, our doctors will guide you through the different treatment options to help you minimize pain and get you back to what you love doing.