There’s a huge paradox facing the medical profession at the moment: while surgical innovations are being found all over the world, they all come at a huge cost to budgets and resources. And that dilemma is impacting on osteoarthritis professions more than most.
While the techniques and procedures have come on in leaps and bounds since the turn of the century, the demands foisted upon the profession are piling up.
However, a new treatment developed by the Vascular Institute of Virginia could provide a solution to waiting lists and precarious budgets: a minimally invasive treatment which could provide relief for people with knee osteoarthritis by blocking certain arteries in the knee, in order to reduce the inflammation that occurs with osteoarthritis. While it doesn’t repair the damage wrought by OA, it claims to reduce pain and improve flexibility.
In a small clinical trial of 13 sufferers of severe knee OA pain, researchers found that the treatment – known as geniculate artery embolization – led to reduced pain and improved knee function up to a month after treatment for the majority of patients.
How geniculate artery embolization works
The procedure begins with the insertion of catheters into key arteries in the knee through small incisions in the skin, with the help of medical imaging. Once the connections were made, microspheres are injected into the arteries, which block the flow of blood. The procedure takes between 45 to 90 minutes and doesn’t require hospitalisation or follow-up physical therapy. Out of the 13 test subjects, eight of them reported a decrease in pain, reduced joint stiffness, and improved physical function in the knee – and none of the thirteen subjects reported any major problems resulting from the procedure.
Why geniculate artery embolization could reduce pain
Geniculate artery embolization focuses on blocking arteries in the knee for a particular reason: because OA researchers believe that chronic inflammation in the joint causes new blood vessels to form and grow into the cartilage, the synovial membranes that line the joint capsule and the nearby bone – bringing new sensory nerves with them. By blocking these newly-formed vessels, the cycle of inflammation and damage is broken.
That’s the theory, in any case: another, more long-term study monitored 72 similar patients over an average of two years. And while 86 percent of them reported improved symptoms, a third of them had to undergo the procedure a second time.
So, is GAE the magic bullet for knee OA? While certain experts have estimated that it would be more expensive than most standard drug treatments for mild-to-moderate knee osteoarthritis, it could be a real solution for more severe incidences – particularly when you factor in the elimination of recovery time after knee replacement surgery. For now, the jury continues to be out – but we’ll be following any further developments with interest.