Arthritis is the degenerative process through which a joint space loses its “cushioning” due to injury, illness or the natural process of aging. Translated to “inflammation of the joint,” this painful condition is the leading cause of musculoskeletal pain and can be found in almost every part of the body. As we make our way into May for National Arthritis Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize the symptoms, causes, and risk factors and explore non-surgical treatment options such as hyaluronic acid injections.
The most common symptom of arthritis is pain, stiffness and swelling in the affected joints and weakness in the joint and the surrounding muscles. The joint may also feel warm to the touch and appear slightly red or splotchy, especially if you suffer from a severe form of arthritis. Symptoms can come and go or remain constant and can vary in severity from mild to unbearable.
Causes & Risk Factors
Cartilage plays a crucial role in the joints of the body. It “cushions” the joint spaces and prevents bone-on-bone contact; arthritis describes any disease process or injury that leads to the loss of this critical soft tissue structure. Through the process of arthritis, cartilage weakens and disappears, ultimately leading to bone-on-bone contact, which is incredibly painful.
Various factors can lead to someone developing arthritis, but the most common causes are the gradual wear and tear of the aging process, traumatic injury, and abnormal immune responses. Some common risk factors that can increase one’s risk of developing the condition are a genetic predisposition, obesity, previous injury to a joint, and weak or underdeveloped muscles supporting a joint. Arthritis is also more common in women than men, which is thought to be tied to hormonal differences between the sexes.
Many of the most common risk factors for arthritis, including age, genetics, and gender, are outside our control. However, the following preventative measures can be taken to help lower your risk of developing this painful condition:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a well-rounded diet rich in healthy fats
- Setting and adhering to a physician-approved exercise regimen
- Protecting your joints during day-to-day activities
- Avoid smoking and heavy alcohol consumption
Non-Surgical vs. Surgical Treatment Options
Even if you have already developed arthritis, several treatment options are available to you. While extreme cases may require complex surgery to replace the arthritic joint with an implant, science has afforded us several non-surgical interventions that can be tried long before surgery becomes necessary. These include physical therapy, steroid injections and orthobiologic treatments like platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) and stem cell injections. Hyaluronic acid injections are also a common minimally invasive treatment option as they replenish a naturally occurring fluid component that fills the joint space (called synovial fluid).
Hyaluronic Acid (HA) Injections
Alongside cartilage, hyaluronic acid cushions the joints of the body. As your arthritis progresses, the hyaluronic acid in your synovial fluid thins and can ultimately disappear, worsening joint pain and stiffness. Replenishing this critical compound can be done with a number of different options, including Euflexxa, Hyalgan, Orthovisc and Synvisc. Your physician will decide which injection to use based on many factors, including age, the severity of your arthritis, your insurance carrier’s medical policies, and your family and medical history.
Depending on which brand of hyaluronic acid your physician elects to move forward with, you could receive anywhere from one to five total injections spread out over weeks or months. Regardless of the schedule, all injections typically unfold similarly and are considered very safe. If you are suffering from joint arthritis, complete our online appointment request or call 850-916-8783 to request a consultation with Dr. Josh Hackel today to see which treatment option is right for you.