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Viscosupplementation is a therapy that involves injecting hyaluronic acid into a joint to treat the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis. The hyaluronic acid can help lubricate the fluid in the joint to help it move more smoothly.

What is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that causes pain and stiffness in the joint. Bones that meet up in a joint have cartilage on their ends. The cartilage helps the bones to move smoothly against each other. The joint also has a substance called synovial fluid that contains hyaluronic acid. It gives the fluid its viscosity, and acts as a coating lubricant and shock absorber.

Osteoarthritis is a condition where the cartilage between the bones breaks down and wears away. It can affect any joint – including knees, hands, hips, back or neck. As a result of the breakdown in cartilage, the bones move against each other, causing friction and symptoms including pain, stiffness and swelling. People with osteoarthritis have decreased hyaluronic acid in their joints, so viscosupplementation can sometimes help boost the lubrication in the joints and alleviate the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.

Individuals over the age of 50 are more susceptible to osteoarthritis, although it can also affect younger people – particularly following an injury like a torn ACL or meniscus in the knee.

What are the Applications of Viscosupplementation?

Viscosupplementation is primarily used to treat osteoarthritis in the knee, but it may also be considered for other arthritic joints, such as the hip. While viscosupplementation will not cure osteoarthritis, for some patients, it can improve the synovial fluid’s ability to lubricate the joint, and thereby reduce pain and improve mobility.

Viscosupplementation is often used after other treatments have been exhausted, including over-the-counter pain medicines and corticosteroid injections. The treatment tends to work best for those suffering from mild or moderate arthritis. It can be an option for patients who wish to put off surgery on an arthritic joint. It has also been found that it can be helpful for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Viscosupplementation is usually implemented following other treatments for osteoarthritis. It typically consists of three to five consecutive injections, spaced approximately one week apart. Some patients feel relief during the course of the three-to-five-week period of injections, although most report the greatest pain relief eight to twelve weeks following the beginning of treatments. Some feel relief for up to six months following the treatments. Still, viscosupplementation is not effective for all patients.

Side effects can include temporary injection-site pain; swelling, heat, or redness; rash and itching; bruising around the joint; and fluid accumulation in the injected knee. These reactions are usually mild and don’t last long. More rare complications can include infection and bleeding.

If you are suffering from osteoarthritis, we invite you to contact the Orthopedic Associates of Northern California to determine if viscosupplementation may be a treatment option for you.

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