Arthritis Injection: More Harm than Good

Osteoarthritis patients gain little benefit and may have increased risk of adverse events

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) When treating osteoarthritis, the first goal is to reduce pain. There are a number of drugs and techniques to relieve pain for arthritis patients, but the benefits do not always outweigh the costs.

Viscosupplementation - a knee osteoarthritis treatment that lubricates the joints so they can move smoothly - may cause more harm than good.

Studies show that the procedure can increase the risk of harmful side effects while only moderately reducing pain.

"Ask your doctor about the side effects of arthritis treatments."

Viscosupplementation involves injecting hyaluronic acid into the knee joint. Hyaluronic acid is a substance that is found naturally in the body. It can act as a lubricant allowing joints to move smoothly over each other, and act as a shock absorber for the joints.

For their recent research, Anne W.W. Rutjes, PhD, of the University of Bern in Switzerland, and colleagues set out to study the benefits and risks of viscosupplementation for adults with osteoarthritis of the knee.

Through examining 89 studies involving more than 12,000 adults, the researchers found that viscosupplementation offered little help to osteoarthritis patients.

Of the 89 studies examined, 71 showed that viscosupplementation moderately reduced pain. Yet, many studies showed that the procedure had an insignificant effect on pain and flare ups of arthritis symptoms. Some results even showed that viscosupplementation may increase the risk of flare ups.

In fourteen studies, viscosupplementation raised the risk of harmful side effects.

"In patients with knee osteoarthritis, viscosupplementation is associated with a small and clinically irrelevant benefit and an increased risk for serious adverse events," the authors conclude.

These findings suggest that doctors should avoid giving viscosupplementation injections to their arthritis patients.

This research was funded by Arco Foundation.

The study is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 13, 2012
Last Updated:
October 23, 2012