If you have osteoarthritis (OA), you know all about joint pain and stiffness. One cause of these symptoms is the fact that hyaluronic acid (HA), a naturally occurring joint lubricant, breaks down in people with OA. To help alleviate the pain, your doctor might recommend treatment with hyaluronic acid injections – sometimes known as gel injections.
What are HA injections?
HA injections replace missing joint lubricant and are currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in the knees. However, some doctors may use the injections in shoulders and hips as well.
The treatments will most likely take place in your doctor’s office. The HA will be injected directly into the joint. The shots are usually given once a week for three to five weeks, depending on the brand used.
Who should receive HA injections?
The injections do not work for everyone. They are typically most effective in people with mild to moderate OA. “Effectiveness in people with more advanced arthritis is less predictable,” warns Scott Rodeo, MD, co-director of the Tissue Engineering, Regeneration, and Repair Program at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.
This treatment can be a sound alternative in cases where nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have not been effective or where NSAIDs are not well tolerated. HA injections may also be a better option than steroid injections if you have diabetes, because corticosteroids can raise blood sugar levels.
What are the benefits and risks?
While it may take several injections before you see results, once you do get some relief from pain and stiffness, it can last for up to six months. Some people may even experience relief for up to a year. However, that pain and stiffness will recur at some point.
The side effects of HA injections are fewer than those associated with other treatments, such as corticosteroid injections. According to Scott Rodeo, “HA is safe, well tolerated and does not have as many adverse effects as steroid injections do.”
After an injection, you may experience mild pain, swelling and stiffness in and around the joint.
What can I expect if I have an injection?
The injection will be given by your doctor, nurse or other health care professional. First, the area around the injection site will be cleaned with alcohol or an iodine-based solution. If your knee has excess fluid, your doctor may first withdraw that excess fluid before injecting the gel. After treatment with HA, you shouldn’t do hard weight-bearing activity for one or two days. Otherwise, you should be able to resume normal activities.
Will insurance cover the injections?
The cost of HA injections is often covered by insurance, but pre-authorization may be required. You should definitely check with your insurance company before starting treatment because the cost can be between $350 to $500 per injection. Most insurance companies will only pay for one series of HA injections every six months.
Author: Jennifer Cuthbertson