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Hyaluronic acid (hyaluronan) injections for osteoarthritis

Hyaluronan injections of hyaluronic acid may be recommended for osteoarthritis of the knee joint, shoulder, elbow or ankle.

Hyaluronic acid helps to lubricate the joint and may be a treatment option if the surfaces of the joint have become rough, but there's not too much inflammation.

Getting a hyaluronic acid injection: What to expect

First, the doctor cleans the area. If your knee is swollen with excess fluid, your doctor may inject a local anaesthetic to reduce pain, then insert a needle into the joint to withdraw excess fluid. The doctor can usually use the needle already in place to inject the hyaluronic acid preparation into the knee joint.

After an injection, you should not do any excessive weight-bearing activity for one or two days. Otherwise, you should be able to resume normal activities.

How effective are hyaluronic acid injections for osteoarthritis?

Hyaluronic acid injections seem to work better in some people than others. They may be less effective in elderly people and people with severe osteoarthritis.

Hyaluronic acid can be prescribed on the NHS, but availability may be limited as it's not recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). It's also available on private prescription.

Hyaluronic acid injections for osteoarthritis: What are the risks?

So far, there appear to be no long-term side effects and few short-term side effects from this treatment. The most common side effects in studies were minor pain at the injection site and effusions (build-up of joint fluid), which got better within a few days. Doctors do not know whether the medication or the injections caused these reactions.

Should you try hyaluronic acid injections?

Doctors cannot predict yet who will benefit from hyaluronic acid injections. But some doctors, particularly in the United States, are considering them for people with significant knee OA symptoms that have not responded to other treatments, and for those who cannot take oral medications or who cannot have total knee replacement surgery.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 31, 2014

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