The traditional approach to treating knee osteoarthritis has typically given patients only two treatment paths. The first is conservative care which attempts to deal with chronic pain and physical limitations through medication, physical therapy, and joint injections, all of which tend to produce only temporary relief. When these fail, and the pain and loss of function in the joint become too severe, patients are then referred for knee replacement surgery, a procedure that cuts away damaged bone and cartilage and replaces it with a prosthesis made of metal and plastics.
Unfortunately, while knee replacement surgery can be effective at relieving pain and restoring function, it is also an arduous procedure that can’t be tolerated by all patients. Even if a patient is a candidate, the recovery is long and difficult, requiring serious limitations to daily activities and extensive physical therapy. Moreover, artificial joints wear out over time, meaning that patients who undergo knee replacement at a relatively young age face the prospect of repeating the surgery in 15 to 20 years. In the absence of other options, many patients put off surgery as long as possible, even as their pain increases and mobility declines.
At AVA Vascular, we offer a minimally invasive alternative to knee replacement surgery that effectively addresses the inflammation at the root of knee pain—genicular artery embolization (GAE). For patients unwilling or unable to undergo surgery, and for whom traditional conservative care is ineffective, GAE offers pain relief and improved function without the risks and limitations of a knee replacement procedure.
What to Expect After Knee Replacement Surgery
Why would a patient delay having knee replacement if it promises to restore their ability to undertake daily activities like walking, getting in and out of chairs, and climbing stairs without pain? The answer is that even when surgery goes well, recovery is prolonged and difficult.
Patients must prepare for a six-week recovery period, in which they may need to use crutches or a walker to get around. Even if the patient is sent home the same day their surgery is performed, that is not an indication that they are ready to function independently—they will need help with everyday tasks such as cooking, bathing, and doing laundry. The home environment must be rearranged to avoid stair climbing, provide safety rails in the shower and bathroom, and remove slipping or tripping hazards like loose rugs and cords. Driving is prohibited for 3 weeks or more until patients can bend their knees well enough to sit in the car, have the muscle control to use the pedals, and no longer need narcotics for pain. Physical therapy is required throughout to develop strength and range of motion.
Like any surgery, knee replacement carries risks, such as infection, blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and nerve damage. In addition, some patients are not good candidates for the procedure due to age or preexisting medical conditions that increase the possibility of dangerous complications.
An Effective Alternative
Genicular artery embolization is an effective middle path between conservative care and surgery. This minimally invasive procedure, performed by an interventional radiologist on an outpatient basis, blocks blood flow to the knee lining (synovium) to permanently reduce painful inflammation. Unlike anti-inflammatory medications or knee injections, the effects of GAE are long-lasting. Unlike surgery, GAE does not require large incisions, general anesthesia, or a hospital stay. Patients can typically resume normal activities the day after surgery and do not need physical therapy.
When patients have reached the limit of what conservative care can do for them, but aren’t ready or able to have knee surgery, GAE provides a treatment that addresses the cause of pain and dysfunction without the risks and drawbacks of a knee replacement. At AVA Vascular, expert interventional radiologist Dr. Nikhil Patel has extensive experience in providing nonsurgical interventions such as genicular artery embolization to improve patients’ quality of life successfully and safely.
If you’re suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee, surgery may not be your only option for long-term relief. To find out more about genicular artery embolization or to schedule a consultation, contact AVA Vascular here.