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  • A nonsurgical, minimally invasive treatment effectively provides pain relief both immediately and in the long term.
  • Patients usually go home the same day after a short post-operative observation after undergoing genicular artery embolization or GAE.
  • By reducing inflammation, researchers found they could ease or even eliminate the pain associated with arthritis.

Arthritis is one of the leading causes of joint-related pain for people throughout the world. Nevertheless, there may be a promising nonsurgical procedure that might relieve pain for at least 12 months.

Researchers at UCLA Health have studied a nonsurgical and minimally invasive treatment option for arthritis that effectively provides pain relief both immediately and in the long term.

Through a technique called genicular artery embolization, or GAE, physicians can relieve arthritis pain in the knees within hours of the procedure.

Arthritis is pain and swelling in the body’s joints after cartilage becomes damaged from overuse. It causes stiffness, immobility, and discomfort, which typically worsens with age.

When cartilage gets worn down, inflammatory enzymes are released, causing joint pain.

And with more than 100 types of arthritis, it is one of the most common ailments affecting people.

Genicular artery embolization is an outpatient procedure designed to limit inflammatory enzymes. GAE takes approximately 1 to 2 hours to complete, and patients usually go home the same day after a short post-operative observation.

During this procedure, a small catheter is directed from the groin toward the knee’s blood vessels. Small particles are then injected to block part of the blood flow, causing embolization to the knee.

By doing this, the inflammatory markers associated with arthritis are reduced. By minimizing inflammation, researchers can decrease or even eliminate the pain associated with this condition.

The Arthritis Foundation indicates that although at least 54 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis by a physician, the number is likely underestimated. Experts believe that more than 91 million adults have arthritis. Though there is no cure, there are measures to prevent and ease the pain.

“Non-operative or minimally invasive procedures like genicular artery embolization can limit pain and improve motion, so this can be a good option for patients who are just too risky to perform surgery on,” said Dr. Manny Sethi, assistant professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

The technique is not new and is the largest Food and Drug Administration-approved study in the United States to evaluate this embolization technique to treat arthritis in the knee. It included 40 people who were not candidates for total knee replacement and did not benefit from traditional therapies like NSAID medications, physical therapy, and joint injections.

The researchers found that the average pain score was 8 out of 10 before the procedure. One week after the procedure, it was 3 out of 10 on average. About 70 percent of patients reported a more than 50 percent reduction in pain one year after the procedure.

Not everybody is a good candidate for this procedure. UCLA Health says the ideal patients are people ages 40 and 80, have moderate to severe localized knee pain and did not benefit from other therapies.

Sethi told Healthline that though this is a great option for older people who cannot tolerate surgery, more research may be needed to verify these findings.

“We definitely need larger and randomized controlled studies to help us understand the true impact of embolization. However, this seems like a relatively safe and non-invasive option for non-surgical patients who are looking for additional options,” said Sethi.

While arthritis is a condition that many people experience, it can be prevented even before surgery or procedures are needed.

“The biggest thing we are not talking about is basic weight loss,” Sethi told Healthline. “If you take 5 to 10 pounds off your body, it’s like taking 50 pounds off of your joints – it’s something that can give your joints some major relief.”

He also encouraged muscle strengthening, stretching, being active, walking more, and not smoking as other preventive measures that can slow arthritis.