One patient, deterred by the prospect of joint-replacement surgery, found relief from non-surgery osteoarthritis treatments. Learn what worked for her and how these treatments may work for you too.
Mary Bowling plays racquetball, skis, and hikes near her Glenwood Springs, Colorado home. She also snowboards and swims. At age 63, Bowling’s activity level is impressive. What’s even more impressive is that she’s had osteoarthritis (OA) in her knee for several decades.
In college, Bowling tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee. At the time, ACL surgery was too new and risky. She opted instead to have a minimally invasive surgery that cleaned out the debris in the knee. She also worked on strengthening the muscles in her knee joint.
Her strength training routine worked well enough for the next 20 years. She was able to maintain her very active lifestyle. But she decided to have ACL repair surgery in her early 40s because she felt the success rate was high enough she could trust it.
The recovery was difficult, but Bowling was able to do many of her favorite activities again. At least temporarily.
Unfortunately, the damage to her knee had built up over the years since her original injury. “All of those years of using it… left me with arthritis that has grown worse and worse as I have gotten older,” she says. It became nearly impossible for her to do some of her favorite activities. “I feared it was time for me to give them up,” she says.
As it turns out, it wasn’t quite time for Bowling to throw in the flag. Her doctor suggested a brace. The brace, along with a 30-pound weight loss, went a long way toward making her knee pain and inflammation better.
Still, it wasn’t perfect. Bowling made an appointment with a surgeon to talk about other options. She was afraid that she would need knee replacement surgery.
“I heard a lot of stories where people ended up in just as bad of shape or even worse after knee replacement surgery,” she says. Her surgeon said the surgery worked well for some, but was difficult for others.
Because her recovery from ACL surgery had been so challenging, she wasn’t eager to undergo another surgery. She decided she wanted to try injectable treatments instead.
Bowling received three hyaluronic acid injections, also known as viscosupplements. Hyaluronic acid is one of two common injectable treatments for OA. The other, cortisone, is a steroid shot that helps reduce inflammation and pain in the joint. Cortisone is often given as a temporary treatment. If used long term, it can actually worsen OA of the knee.
Hyaluronic acid is a substance that is similar to the body’s natural joint lubricant and shock absorber. A healthy joint has sufficient levels of this substance. Damaged joints may benefit from having the injections and increased joint fluid. Like Bowling, many patients receive three injections several weeks apart. If the injections are successful, you may be able to repeat them every six months.
She also saw a physical therapist so she could learn to walk properly and use her knee in safer ways.
“The weight loss, the shots, the knee brace, and the physical therapy, all of these things put together, really worked well for me,” Bowling says. “I can’t attribute the fact that my knee is feeling so much better to any one of those things individually. It’s everything together really.”