Common osteoarthritis treatment may get radical makeover

According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder.

The condition is characterized by a breakdown of cartilage in the joints. Cartilage cushions the joints and allows them to move easily, and once it begins to deplete the joints start rubbing against each other. This causes loss of movement, stiffness and pain in the afflicted area of the body.

An estimated 27 million Americans experience osteoarthritis pain, and currently there are only temporary solutions available for relief. The most common treatment for this disorder, other than taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, is viscosupplementation. During the procedure, a gel is injected into the affected area that acts as joint fluid in the body would. According to the Mayo Clinic this treatment is only approved for knee osteoarthritis.

Recently, scientists at the Lawson Health Research Institute in Canada have been working to develop a more affective and long-term pain relief treatment for this disorder. The researchers believe that a combination of steroids added to viscosupplementation may work faster and for longer periods of time than current treatments.

"Patients are really searching for better options for osteoarthritis therapy," explains lead researcher Robert Petrella, MD. "[The new treatment] takes effect very quickly and lasts longer than other available therapies, allowing patients to achieve and sustain a higher quality of life."

Many patients currently use over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen to control their osteoarthritis pain. According to The Mayo Clinic, taking these medications for long periods of time at increasing dosages can cause many health problems including stroke. Other patients may take prescription painkillers, which carry a high risk of dependency.

Researchers worked with 98 patients who experience osteoarthritis. Each patient was given one injection of the new treatment and then monitored for 6 months. Results showed that the treatment relieved pain better than viscosupplementation injections without the added steroid component. The treatment was also found to have fewer side effects and lead to improved function in the joints.

Scientists are planning more trials to determine the effectiveness of this injection and see if it can be made part of mainstream osteoarthritis treatment. 

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