Degeneration of the knee is a common condition that occurs as we age. Early problems are often minor injuries to the ligaments and meniscus, and they usually heal with conservative or surgical care. Over the age of forty, we start getting deterioration of the joint space and cartilage. Pain then becomes more consistent, and the knee moves less well and becomes swollen and stiff. Ignoring the knees becomes difficult and walking hurts, so many individuals seek medical attention.
When the simple treatments for degeneration/osteoarthritis do not work, one of the next levels of management is injectable medication. At this point in treatment, a Physical Medicine Pain expert can guide you through the best comprehensive program with the least additional pain. Usually the first level of injection is a cortisone type of injection, best done either with ultrasound or fluoroscopy. Long-acting cortisones include methylprednisolone and triamenacelone, which help control inflammation in the knee for three to six months.
The Benefits of Visculosupplements
Visculosupplements may be beneficial if steroids are not helping. These are injections of buffered hyaluronic acid that promote normal joint fluid production and lubrication. The first compound approved by the FDA was about 20 years ago – Synvisc – and is still used but has significant problems with allergic reactions. Now there are many three-dose regimens that work very well and are very purified without any issues with allergic reactions. The three-dose process may be the best to actually stimulate joint fluid production. In February a single dose regimen, Monovisc, was approved. Whether this will work well remains to be seen. Previous single dose regimens have not been quite as effective.
With all osteoarthritis and degeneration of the knee treatments, conservative measures with injections are necessary. Lifestyle changes including weight loss, exercise, and sometimes using adaptive equipment like braces or canes can be helpful. Using anti-inflammatory medications including creams may also help.
In the United States these visculosupplements are only approved for the use in the knee. In other countries they are used successfully in many different joints. They can be used safely in other joints, but the medication cost would be the responsibility of the patient. They have been used in the hip, pelvis, elbows, and hands. As a safe conservative treatment especially for the knee, these injections are a time-tested success.
Thomas Cohn, MD
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