Knee pain can be a huge inconvenience in your everyday life. Arthritis, the most common form of knee pain, can make it hard to be active, which can interfere with your favorite hobby or just enjoying a walk in the park. You are not alone if you have chronic knee pain. One-third of people in the U.S. report having pain in the knees. This is especially true as people age, making it the second most common chronic pain condition in the U.S. Today we look at one treatment option: injections for knee pain.

How injections for knee pain work

There is no cure for arthritis in the knee, but thankfully, there are injections for knee pain that can drastically reduce pain and improve quality of life for most patients. There are many types of knee injections and numerous research studies have been done to see how effective they can be.

While researchers have found that injections for knee pain can be quite effective, they can come with some complications. It is always best to use more standard treatment options like oral medications to obtain pain relief before moving on to injections. Make sure to discuss all of the benefits and risks of knee injections with your doctor before proceeding.

After your doctor has decided that oral pain medication is no longer effective, but surgery is still too extreme an option, then injections are considered a good alternative. This option is a quick and simple outpatient procedure.

Types of injections for knee pain

Injections into the knee can take many different forms. The type of pain, condition of the knee, and previously-tried treatment options dictate the kind of injection that will be used on a patient. Here are the three most common injections used today.

Corticosteroid injection

This kind of injection delivers a steroid directly to the knee joint for quick reprieve from inflammation and pain. This type of injection provides targeted relief to the knee joint and usually avoids the side effects of oral versions of these medications. It excels at treating flare-up pain and swelling of the knee caused by fluid buildup.

Hyaluronic acid injection

The naturally occurring fluid in a healthy knee is called hyaluronic acid. It provides lubrication as well as acts as a shock absorber to provide padding for the knee. If you are suffering from arthritis or an injury, the acid thins causing friction in the knee joint, which can lead to inflammation and irritation. An injection of a hydronic acid supplement into the affected knee joint can often provide relief.

Hyaluronic acid injections are usually only tried after a steroid shot has failed to help or only provides minimal pain reduction. This type of injection can be even more short-lived than a standard steroid shot, but has been known to provide more long-term benefits in terms of reducing pain and inflammation. It is also good to be aware that there are at least five current versions of this type of injection in the U.S. market today. So make sure you talk to your pain doctor about the differences with each.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection

This procedure is relatively new, so there hasn’t been as much research yet into its efficacy. It requires a sample of the patients’ blood before an injection can be made. PRP is then collected and treated from this sample and injected into the knee joint. It is suggested that this process promotes healing by releasing growth factor proteins. These are crucial in the regeneration and repair process for soft tissue.

The science behind injections for knee pain

In one study, conducted by Tufts Medical Center, it was shown that out of ten treatment options for knee pain, corticosteroid and hyaluronic acid injections were the most effective. They showed the most significant reduction in pain. They were also proven to be significantly better at reducing the pain compared to over-the-counter medications.

Another study, conducted by A Gadek et al, confirmed that hyaluronic acid injections into the knee joint were safe and effective in treating knee pain. It was further put forward that these injections should be used earlier in the treatment of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is one of the leading causes of disability among the elderly.

There are some studies that were unable to show the benefit of hyaluronic acid injections. In a systematic review of 22 trials, J Arrich et al found a lack of clinical effectiveness. It also revealed a slightly higher risk of adverse effects with its use.

Further research showed that multiple platelet-rich plasma injections were more effective than a shot of hyaluronic acid. In those with early osteoarthritis, PRP was shown to greatly increase knee scores of patients compared to a control group. However, there was no difference in improvement on advanced cases of osteoarthritis.

Cautions on injections for knee pain

If you’re considering injections for your knee pain, here’s what you can expect to find, as well as some cautions about the procedure itself.

It is a short-term solution

Don’t expect permanent relief from this treatment option. Most procedures will alleviate the pain from about four weeks up to six months. This can be great if you are having severe chronic pain flare-ups, but the pain is sure to return if no other treatment is considered.

Results will be quick

Significant symptom relief for knee pain often happens within the first 24 to 48 hours after the injection.

Frequent use is not recommended

Injections do provide pain relief, but it is ill advised to receive more than two or three shots a year. Too frequent of injections can cause even more problems, leading to damage in the cells of the knee that make up the cartilage. They can also become less effective them once they are used.

Risks of knee injections

While these are relatively rare, complications can still occur including:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Flushing
  • Synovium inflammation
  • Swelling

Have you ever had an injection for knee pain? Did it help, harm, or do nothing?

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