Hyaluronic Acid (HA) injections are uniquely prescribed for patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA). Knee OA is a degenerative condition that affects millions of Americans. Knee pain can have many causes; OA is simply one possible cause of knee pain. Knee OA can be diagnosed with x-rays or an MRI of the knee joint.
HA is a naturally occurring joint lubricant that seems to decrease with age. Commercially available HA is a viscous, clear substance that is injected directly into the knee joint; often with the use of ultrasound guidance. The use of HA to treat knee OA has been around for decades. HA injections are safe and well tolerated. Medicare will reimburse for HA injections for knee OA. Other insurance companies may cover HA injections, too.
There are several brands of HA and they include Synvisc, Supartz, Omnivisc, Hyalgan and others. Commonly, a total of 3 to 4 injections are given on a weekly basis. In my practice, I have seen significant knee pain relief and improvement with knee range of motion after HA injections. Rarely, do I have patients that do not notice any pain relief after their injections. The benefits of HA injections can last from 6 months to 2 years in clinical studies.
In general, the HA injections provide substantial, temporary pain and stiffness relief. For more prolonged relief of knee pain and stiffness, patients should consider platelet rich plasma injections (PRP) or mesenchymal signaling cell (MSC) injections. However, these latter injections are not covered by health insurance. Knee strengthening exercises are also beneficial for knee OA.
It seems that knee OA is a progressive degenerative process that is best treated early rather than allowing the condition to progress over time. It becomes more difficult to treat knee OA in patients with more advanced arthritis.