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Caring Medical
Regenerative Medicine Clinics

Chicagoland office
715 Lake Street, Suite 600
Oak Park, IL 60301
708.393.8266 Phone

Southwest Florida office
9738 Commerce
Center Court
Fort Myers, FL 33908
239.303.4069 Phone

855.779.1950 Fax

Knee osteoarthritis treatments

Ross.Hauser.MDRoss Hauser, MD

For many years now, state of the art management of knee osteoarthritis treatment was a total or partial knee replacement.  Over the past few years the medical community has begun an awkward shift away from surgery towards “biomedicine” and the use of patient’s stem cells and blood platelets as healing mechanisms. This can be seen in our extensive article on Knee Surgery Alternatives and in the combination use of biomaterials and surgery in our article Stem Cell Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis.

The Needle Cures

The shift away from surgery to biomedicine injections has some saying that patients get better because of a placebo effect. Many studies have shown that injecting a needle, even a dry needle causes many patients to “get better.” This is the placebo effect. But is it really a placebo?

In January of 2015 doctors examined the placebo effect on patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis. Not included in the study were Prolotherapy, Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy, or Stem Cell Therapy.

Here is what they did: They provided patients with the following acetaminophen, diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib (see our article on how painkillers can increase pain), intra-articular (IA) corticosteroids, IA hyaluronic acid, oral placebo, and intra-articular placebo.

After three months of testing they found  Intra-articular treatments were superior to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, possibly because of the integrated “injection” placebo effect.

All treatments except acetaminophen showed clinically significant improvement from baseline pain. 1

  • So clearly giving an injection makes the patient feel better

For some doctors, injection therapy goes beyond placebo, injection therapies for regenerating knee tissue is state of the art management of knee osteoarthritis.

In May of 2015 doctors found that Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy is a viable treatment for knee osteoarthritis and has the potential to lead to symptomatic relief for up to 12 months.2

In February 2015, a new research paper called: “State-of-the-Art management of knee osteoarthritis” outlined treatment strategies for knee osteoarthritis. Here are the summary highlights with treatment suggestions:

At the top

  • Patients should be advised that painkillers and anti-inflammatories that while commonly used  for managing knee osteoarthritis, can be effective in the short-term but are less effective for long-term management. Additionally, more prolonged use significantly increases the risk of serious associated side effects that are not too uncommon.
  • Disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs need to be further investigated for their effectiveness.

The goal of developing new treatment strategies for knee osteoarthritis is to prolong the need for total knee replacement  which should be utilized only if other strategies have failed.

High tibial osteotomy (cutting and reshaping of the bone) and unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (partial knee replacement) are potential alternatives if only a single compartment is involved with more data supporting unicompartmental knee arthroplasty as a good treatment option in this scenario.

Arthroscopy has been commonly used for many years to treat knee knee osteoarthritis to address degenerative articular cartilage and meniscus, however, several high-quality studies have shown that it is not a very effective treatment for the majority of cases and should generally not be considered when managing knee osteoarthritis. From “State-of-the-Art management of knee osteoarthritis

Cartilage Transplant

The word autologous means it comes from you. If you receive an autologous stem cell treatment, this means that stem cells were taken from your body. This is the basis of “biomedicine.” Using your blood or stem cells to heal you.

Yet, stem cell therapy is often combined with much more radical procedures, namely those found in surgery. Here is new research which acknowledges that repairing damaged cartilage is a major goal of musculoskeletal tissue engineering. But in this study, there is a need for a cartilage patch, a flap of skin over the cartilage lesion to make stem cells work.

“Allogeneic (same species, different individual) or xenogeneic (different species) sources can provide an attractive source of chondrocytes for cartilage tissue engineering, since autologous (same individual) cells are scarce.”3 Meaning that there is not enough cartilage in the patient to make skin flaps.

The problem with going outside the patient to another human being or animal to get cartilage tissue is the idea of immune rejection of non-autologous cartilage. In this research the investigators suggest that human to human cartilage transplant is possible with associated variables to limit rejection.3

Here again, is an expansion of the simple basics of stem cell therapy into the surgical theater.

One Third of Knee Replacements NOT NECESSARY

Over the years we have reported that we have seen many patients following knee replacement surgery who still had pain. After an examination we could clearly see that some of the patients did not need the surgery and that their doctors may have had an over zealousness to get them onto the operating table. That has been our opinion for years and many times we would get the casual email saying that we were off base to offer such an opinion.

On June 30, 2014, a press release was issued from the medical journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, in it doctors say that their research suggests that more than one third of total knee replacements in the U.S. were “inappropriate.” Using a patient classification system developed and validated in Spain the study highlights the need for consensus on patient selection criteria among U.S. medical professionals treating those with the potential need of knee replacement surgery.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported

  • Some experts believe the growth of number of knee replacements is due to use of an effective procedure, while others contend there is over-use of the surgery that relies on subjective criteria.

The present study led by Dr. Daniel Riddle from the Department of Physical Therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond who said: “Our finding that one third of knee replacements were inappropriate was higher than expected and linked to variation in knee pain osteoarthritis severity and functional loss. These data highlight the need to develop patient selection criteria in the U.S.”

In a related editorial, Dr. Jeffery Katz from the Orthopedic and Arthritis Center for Outcomes Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., writes, “we should be concerned about offering total knee replacements to subjects who endorse “none” or “mild” on all items of the pain and function scales.”

For women and older patients, the chances of a successful knee replacement are lower

In a study out of London, researchers sought to uncover various predictors of a successful (or unsuccessful) outcome in a total knee replacement2. Looking at 1,991 total knee replacement patients over a three-year period, they discovered various predictors of poor outcomes. Among the findings were that females and older people had worse functional outcomes following the replacement surgery.

While women should take this information into account, any Prolotherapist would argue that all knee osteoarthritis patients should seek a second opinion from a Prolotherapist to see if they can avoid surgery and its potential adverse outcomes.

At Caring Medical and Rehabilitation Services, (CMRS), we have found and shown in research that Prolotherapy is effective for curing knee pain.4

Knee replacement given to patients with low back and hip pain

Recently we wrote  about a study that said knee replacement given to patients with low back and hip pain. That sounds inappropriate, does it not? In that study, investigators advised doctors that they must recognize hip disease before giving a recommendation for back and knee surgery because doctors may be performing the wrong procedures. Writing in the medical journal Modern Rheumatology, they say: “We suggest that rheumatologists be aware of hip disease masquerading as knee pain or low back pain.”5

They noted various ways hip pain distributes itself:

Distribution of pain originating in the hip was:

  • 89 % to the groin
  • 38 % to the buttock
  • 33 % to the anterior thigh
  • 29 % to the knee
  • 27 % to the greater trochanter
  • 17 % to the low back
  • 8 % to the lower leg

In the case of chronic joint pain, a thorough examination is imperative in identifying the correct diagnosis. That sounds like common sense, but the sad truth is that the source of pain is often missed. Let’s take a look at some recent research.

Positive outcomes and knee surgery success rates

“Arthroscopic joint debridement is a potential and sufficient treatment for knee osteoarthritis in a middle-term time interval. This procedure results in an excellent or good outcome in approximately 60 % of patients in approximately 5 years.”Joint debridement is a sort of “power-washing” of the joint to wash away loose tissue and other loose bodies in the joint. Sixty percent patient satisfaction is good. Unless you are in the other 40%.7

Bone surgery for the knee

As the knee degenerates, it changes in shape. A popular treatment involves restoring the shape by bone surgery to alleviate pressure and pain. Osteotomy is a surgery that the researchers say, “should always be performed if possible.” When a surgeon recommends an osteotomy for the knee the goal is that they can change the shape or slope or angle of the bone to realign the knee to relieve pressure on the pain causing part of the knee by distributing your weight to a sturdier part of your knee. The hope of course is to extend the life of your real knee and delay knee replacement surgery. Surgery to avoid surgery!

Concerns are:

1) You are removing anatomy, as we like to say, if you didn’t need it, it wouldn’t be there in the first place.

2) Extended recovery time and immobility.

3) If the Osteotomy does not work, a knee replacement is next and unfortunately, total knee replacement is a much more complicated surgery with some bone missing or altered. This complication is why knee replacement is usually called for from the start.

So why always perform this surgery if possible? Because there is a chance by altering the knee that knee cartilage can regenerate! In fact it has been reported in 60% of cases following high tibial osteotomy that there has been some degree of cartilage regeneration.  (See cartilage repair).

 One study identifies 22 different risks associated with total knee arthroplasty

Here is what the authors had to say:

“The 22 TKA complications and adverse events include:

  • bleeding,
  • wound complication,
  • thromboembolic disease,
  • neural deficit,
  • vascular injury,
  • medial collateral ligament injury,
  • instability,
  • malalignment,
  • stiffness,
  • deep joint infection,
  • fracture,
  • extensor mechanism disruption,
  • patellofemoral dislocation,
  • tibiofemoral dislocation,
  • bearing surface wear,
  • osteolysis,
  • implant loosening,
  • implant fracture/tibial insert dissociation,
  • reoperation,
  • revision,
  • readmission,
  • and death.”8

Another surgical complication involves difficulty in performing secondary surgery. In another study, researchers looked at patients who had a prior procedures including bone procedures, high tibial osteotomy, tibial plateau fracture, patellar realignment, and arthroscopy. They discovered that prior knee surgery could be considered a clinical condition that predisposes a patient to postoperative complications with a total knee replacement. After analyzing three groups of patients they found that patients who underwent arthroscopy and meniscectomy had a higher rate of postoperative local complications than patients with no prior surgery or procedures. Further, they found that patients with prior bone procedures showed the poorest postoperative abilities in knee flexion and showed the greatest need for extended surgical approach.9

Prior procedures that damaged the knee

The saline used in many medical procedures actually damages articular cartilage. “Normal saline, the most commonly used irrigation fluid, may have an inhibitory effect on proteoglycan metabolism in articular cartilage. Additional studies are required to assess the potential damage to cartilage from normal saline in the clinical setting.”10

This  medical research paper was published in December 2012. Interestingly ,way back in 1991, similar concerns were noted: “[It is suggested] that meniscal damage may occur as a direct result of using normal saline for irrigation during knee arthroscopy.”11

Problem 2: Loss of knee fluid

Remarkably, about twenty years later, one paper noted: “The short-term recovery period post-arthroscopic meniscectomy is characterized by pain and impaired function most likely related to the irrigation of synovial fluid from the knee intraoperatively. Consequently, along with removal of harmful debris, the irrigation fluid dilutes the hyaluronic acid layer covering the joint tissues. Hyaluronic acid contributes to the homeostasis of the joint environment and is an important component of synovial fluid and cartilage matrix. Hence, the instillation of hyaluronic acid after the procedure may relieve symptom. “12

In concept, replacing hyaluronic acid makes sense. If the surgery is causing loss of natural hyaluronic acid, then replacing it after surgery should help. For some it reduced pain ,but  it did NOT improve knee function for all. As a side note – which patients were excluded from the study? “Patients with ligamentous injuries or severe chondral damage were excluded.”13 These patients are those who seemingly would benefit the most from Comprehensive Prolotherapy.

Prolotherapy to the knee

Prolotherapy for knee pain

Comprehensive Prolotherapy injections, whether dextrose, Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy,  Stem Cell Injection Therapy  for Knee Osteoarthritis, or other growth factors is a less complicated, less risky, and less invasive procedure. As we have reported in previous articles, we have documented articular cartilage regeneration in the Journal of Prolotherapy. 14 Here is our summation:

“Prolotherapy improved the pain and function in five knees with osteoarthritis. All five degenerated knees showed evidence of articular cartilage regeneration in their standard weight-bearing X-rays after Prolotherapy. It is suggested that before and after X-ray studies can be used to document the response of degenerated joints to Prolotherapy.”

Prolotherapy is the only treatment found to stimulate cartilage repair and regeneration, as is shown by the X-rays. Furthermore, Prolotherapy offers the most curative results in treating chronic pain. It effectively eliminates pain because it attacks the source: the fibro-osseous junction, an area rich in sensory nerves. This improved tissue strength creates long term pain relief.

1. Bannuru RR, Schmid CH, Kent DM, Vaysbrot EE, Wong JB, McAlindon TE. Comparative effectiveness of pharmacologic interventions for knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Jan 6;162(1):46-54. doi: 10.7326/M14-1231.

2. Campbell KA, Saltzman BM, Mascarenhas R, Khair MM, Verma NN, Bach BR Jr, Cole BJ. Does Intra-articular Platelet-Rich Plasma Injection Provide Clinically Superior Outcomes Compared With Other Therapies in the Treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis? A Systematic Review of Overlapping Meta-analyses. Arthroscopy. 2015 May 29. pii: S0749-8063(15)00353-9. doi: 10.1016/j.arthro.2015.03.041. [Epub ahead of print]

3. Arzi B, DuRaine GD, Lee CA, Huey DJ, Borjesson DL, Murphy BG, Hu JC, Baumgarth N, Athanasiou KA. Cartilage immunoprivilege depends on donor source and lesion location. Acta Biomater. 2015 May 28. pii: S1742-7061(15)00249-4. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2015.05.025. [Epub ahead of print]

4. Luque R, Rizo B, Urda A, Garcia-Crespo R, Moro E, Marco F, López-Duran L. Predictive factors for failure after total knee replacement revision. Int Orthop. 2014 Jan 9. 

5. Judge A, Arden NK, Cooper C, Kassim Javaid M, Carr AJ, Field RE, Dieppe PA. Predictors of outcomes of total knee replacement surgery.Int Orthop. 2014 Feb;38(2):429-35. doi: 10.1007/s00264-013-2268-8. Epub 2014 Jan 9.

6.  Nakamura J, Oinuma K, Ohtori S, et al. Distribution of hip pain in osteoarthritis patients secondary to developmental dysplasia of the hip. Mod Rheumatol. 2012 Apr 11. [Epub ahead of print]

7. Spahn G, Hofmann GO, Klinger HM. The effects of arthroscopic joint debridement in the knee osteoarthritis: results of a meta-analysis. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2012 Aug 15.

8. Spahn G, Klinger HM, Harth P, Hofmann GO. [Cartilage regeneration after high tibial osteotomy. Results of an arthroscopic study]. Z Orthop Unfall. 2012 Jun;150(3):272-9. Epub 2012 Jun 22.

9. Healy WL, Della Valle CJ, Iorio R, Berend KR, Cushner FD, Dalury DF, Lonner JH. Complications of Total Knee Arthroplasty: Standardized List and Definitions of The Knee Society. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2012 Jul 19. [Epub ahead of print]

10. Piedade SR, Pinaroli A, Servien E, Neyret P.KA outcomes after prior bone and soft tissue knee surgery. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2012 Jul 25.

11. Gulihar A, Bryson DJ, Taylor GJ. Effect of Different Irrigation Fluids on Human Articular Cartilage: An In Vitro Study. Arthroscopy. 2012 Dec 19. pii: S0749-8063(12)01654-4. doi: 10.1016/j.arthro.2012.07.013. [Epub ahead of print]

12. Mah ET, Lee WK, Southwood RT, Carbone A, Leppard PJ. Effects of irrigation fluid on human menisci: an experimental comparison of water, normal saline, and glycine. Effects of irrigation fluid on human menisci: an experimental comparison of water, normal saline, and glycine. Arthroscopy. 1991;7(1):24-32.

13.Thein R, Haviv B, Kidron A, Bronak S. Intra-articular injection of hyaluronic acid following arthroscopic partial meniscectomy of the knee. Orthopedics. 2010 Oct 11;33(10):724. doi: 10.3928/01477447-20100826-11.

14. Hauser R, Phillips HJ, Maddela HS. The Case for Utilizing Prolotherapy as First-Line Treatment for Meniscal Pathology: A Retrospective Study Shows Prolotherapy is Effective in the Treatment of MRI-Documented Meniscal Tears and Degeneration. Journal of Prolotherapy. 2010;2(3):416-437.


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