Almost 30 million people in the United States suffer from osteoarthritis, with the knee being the joint being most commonly affected. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which cartilage, the natural cushioning between the bones in your joints, becomes worn away, allowing the bones to rub together. The friction causes pain and inflammation, which leads to increased blood flow to the knee.
Typical treatment for osteoarthritis tends to present patients with unpalatable options—reliance on painkilling or anti-inflammatory medications with potentially serious side effects, regular injections in the knee, or ultimately painful and involved surgery if those therapies fail to work. However, genicular artery embolization is a relatively new and effective minimally invasive procedure to treat osteoarthritis of the knee without drugs or major surgery.
Genicular artery embolization (GAE) is an interventional radiology procedure that minimizes blood flow to the synovium (the lining of the knee). This reduces the inflammation associated with osteoarthritis, naturally relieving the painful symptoms. It is ideal for patients who:
While GAE does not repair the underlying cartilage damage from osteoarthritis, it does effectively treat the symptoms without the side effects associated with the long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or other medications. Physical therapy is not necessary after undergoing GAE.
Genicular artery embolization is an outpatient procedure performed under local anesthesia with moderate sedation for the patient’s comfort. Unlike a more involved knee surgery, you will not need general anesthesia or stay overnight at the hospital. The doctor threads a catheter through the femoral artery via a tiny incision in the groin, guiding it with real-time imaging to the site of the inflammation. Tiny beads are injected into the affected arteries, reducing blood flow to the inflamed area.
While the length of the procedure depends on the degree of damage to the knee, GAE normally takes about one to two hours to complete. The reduced blood flow that results alleviates inflammation and pain associated with knee osteoarthritis gradually, with most patients experiencing relief in about two to three weeks post-procedure as the inflammation of the knee lining lessens.
Traditional means of treating osteoarthritis have significant drawbacks. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are often used for knee pain, can cause serious side effects with prolonged use. Over 100,000 people are hospitalized annually for NSAID-related complications such as gastrointestinal bleeding. Extensive knee surgery is physically grueling, requires hospitalization and extensive rehabilitation, and leaves large visible scars that are difficult to conceal. In fact, surgery may not even be an option for patients at high risk of complications.
By contrast, genicular artery embolization is minimally invasive, requiring only a small incision. Any scarring is usually barely visible within a month or two. As an outpatient procedure, it has low risk and much faster recovery, with minimal side effects. It can also be performed on people who may not be considered good candidates for a more extensive surgery that would require general anesthesia and a hospital stay. The procedure is safe and effective, with 85 percent of patients reporting significant relief from pain within the first month after their procedure.
Genicular artery embolization gives patients an alternative that produces long-term relief from pain. If you’re experiencing diminishing benefits from medication or injections and aren’t able or willing to undergo expensive knee surgery, GAE may be a solution for your osteoarthritis pain.
At the Vein & Fibroid Treatment Center, we specialize in minimally invasive treatments that relieve pain and restore quality of life, including genicular artery embolization. Board-certified interventional radiologist Dr. Saleh has over a decade of experience in helping patients find effective alternatives to major surgery through innovative image-guided procedures. If you’re experiencing stubborn knee pain from osteoarthritis and would like to learn more about GAE, contact the Vein & Fibroid Treatment Center here.