Hyaluronic acid is a naturally-occurring lubricant made by the body to help cushion joints and support a free range of motion. This lubricant can thin over time, resulting from conditions such as injury, obesity, and even natural aging. It manifests as osteoarthritis (OA), also known as degenerative joint disease. While treatment such as physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, and improving joint mobility through physical or occupational therapy may help, there is no cure for osteoarthritis. Many patients take over-the-counter painkillers to manage discomfort, but in some cases, pain simply doesn’t respond to drugs. In such cases, physicians may recommend hyaluronic acid injections.
Targeted hyaluronic injections, also called viscosupplementation, have been used specifically for OA in the knee and can add to the joint’s existing supply of the lubricant. These minimally-invasive treatments are an attractive alternative for patients who aren’t ready for knee replacement surgery but have not been able to control symptoms through other therapies.
While hyaluronic injections reportedly work well in certain patients, they may be less effective in elderly individuals and those with severe OA. With that said, 30% of people who received the injections were completely pain-free, with results lasting up to two years. For any patient seeking to delay or avoid knee surgery, treatment offered with these and other alternative options are likely worth exploring.