When to Use Gel Injections for Arthritis


Gel injections are one of several common methods for treating arthritis pain. You may have heard about the benefits of gel injections and wondered how they differ from cortisone shots or other treatments for arthritis. Can they help you avoid surgery? Are they a cure-all for the pain associated with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or other forms of the condition?

Gel injections are one of several common methods of getting arthritis pain relief, but won’t likely be the first-line of treatment your orthopedic doctor recommends. Find out how they differ from other treatment options and when they are most effective before you get pricked.

What are gel injections?

Gel injections are hyaluronic acid supplements, or a synthetic version of a substance that occurs naturally in the joints. The shots are also sometimes called viscosupplementation, and Synvisc and Hyalgan are two specific brands used for this kind of treatment. Like corticosteroids — or cortisone shots — the gel injections have anti-inflammatory properties. They also have the additional benefit of working like a lubricant or a shock absorber for a joint — knee, hip or other — allowing them function properly and without pain.

If you suffer from arthritis, you know that movement and range of motion can be compromised by the condition, making it hard or unpleasant to do everyday activities. When the gel injections are successful, they allow the joint to glide smoothly while moving. Much like cortisone shots, the gel injections can provide a window of pain relief that allows a patient to engage in physical therapy for arthritis. Any kind of shot without physical therapy is likely going to be less effective for the treatment of arthritis in the long-term. Discuss a comprehensive treatment plan with a fellowship-trained orthopedic doctor, who can prescribe physical therapy and gel injections as needed.

How often are gel shots administered?

An orthopedic expert will administer gel injections several times in the affected joint over a period of several weeks. The gel injections can provide relief from arthritis pain that lasts from several weeks to more than twelve months. The injections will likely be administered once weekly for three to five weeks, according to the Arthritis Foundation. As part of the treatment, a small amount of the naturally occurring hyaluronic acid may be removed from the joint to make room for the injected fluid.

Medicare and other insurance providers may limit their coverage of gel injections, cortisone shots or other arthritis pain treatments. Be sure to contact your carrier to determine your coverage.

Are gel injections a miracle cure?

Because you may have heard or seen advertisements from providers offering gel injections as a promise to be a panacea for arthritis pain, you may have wondered whether they are a cure-all. Unfortunately, those ads can be misleading. No treatment works like a magical antidote for arthritis pain. Gel injections can be an important tool in your treatment — but won’t likely be the line of first defense against pain.

As a first step toward treating arthritis, you want to be examined by a fellowship-trained orthopedic specialist. An orthopedic doctor can determine what treatment — or likely combination of treatments — will work best for you. Before finding relief, you may need to try multiple options, ranging from therapy and cortisone to joint replacement, though orthopedic surgery is uncommon for most patients who suffer from arthritis.

As a first line of treatment, your doctor will likely try corticosteroid or cortisone injections — shots of an anti-inflammatory medication — and physical therapy. Gel injections would be more likely to be considered later, as a more intensive and lasting alternative to cortisone.

Learning how to treat arthritis pain and getting on the right course of treatment early on will likely mean a better quality of life and relief from pain in the long run.