Last year I learned first-hand about the benefits of using hyaluronic acid for joint pain. I was attending a course on injections, and the instructor used me to demonstrate. I had injured the joint at the base of my thumb playing hockey, and it had been painful for months afterward to the point that it was affecting my work. After that one injection of hyaluronic acid, I was pain-free for a good six months, until sadly, I smacked it again playing hockey.
While hyaluronic acid is injectable, it’s actually a substance that is naturally found in the synovial fluid that lubricates your joints. Synovial fluid is a viscous substance that reduces friction inside your joints when you move, and is an important element in joint health, especially when it comes to osteoarthritis.
The most common kind of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage, and ultimately the bones, in a joint wear away. Cartilage is found at the ends of your bones. It’s softer and more flexible than bone, and works to protect and cushion your joints. However, when the cartilage degenerates, your bones begin to rub together painfully.
The primary reason that osteoarthritis is so widespread is because it’s caused by the wear and tear on your joints from aging. However, aging isn’t the only factor in whether or not you’ll develop osteoarthritis. Your family history, previous joint-related injuries, overuse, and excess weight also play a role. Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include pain and stiffness, especially first thing in the morning, and swelling and degeneration of the joint.
Traditional treatments for osteoarthritis include exercise, physical therapy, and medications to relieve pain or reduce inflammation. In the past couple of decades, health care providers have also turned to injections into the affected joint. Corticosteroids, anti-cytokine drugs, or analgesics have been used in injections to reduce inflammation and relieve pain in the joint. However, many health care providers have turned to collagen and hyaluronic acid injections to minimize the side effects of steroids and other drugs. Although each of these injection treatments can work to decrease pain, hyaluronic acid injections have been found to be the safest and longest lasting.
Hyaluronic acid is an important component of the synovial fluid found between your joints. While cartilage protects the ends of the bones within a joint, synovial fluid works to lubricate, create space between the bones, and regulate the cellular activities of the joint. However, as you get older or with repeated wear and tear, the density of hyaluronic acid in your synovial fluid decreases, which makes it less viscous and less effective in protecting your joints. Scientists believe that hyaluronic acid injections are effective because they reduce inflammation, increase viscosity of the synovial fluid, and positively affect cellular action within the joint.
Hyaluronic acid injections may be a good option for patients who can’t tolerate pain medications long-term. Because hyaluronic acid is found naturally in your body, injections tend to have few, in any, side effects. However, you may experience temporary swelling or mild pain in the joint for a day or two after having an injection.
If you choose to have hyaluronic acid injections for osteoarthritis joint pain in Vancouver, your treatment regimen may vary, depending on your specific health history and the nature of your pain. You may have a single treatment, or be prescribed three to six injections spaced at least a week apart.
After my training and experience with hyaluronic acid, I have been using it on patients with joint pain and osteoarthritis, with positive results fairly quickly. For patients who are in a lot of pain, I may add Procaine, an injectable analgesic. I have found in the clinic that hyaluronic acid is a good alternative to cortisone injections, which can have negative side effects and damage the joint if it’s injected too frequently.
Injuring my thumb a second time playing hockey sealed the deal for me with hyaluronic acid injections. I injected myself the next day, and my thumb hasn’t hurt since.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.