Hyaluronic acid (HA) has a high profile in the aesthetics community as the basis of many dermal filler formulations. It makes sense, because it’s a substance that’s found throughout the body serving a variety of functions — in the skin, it attracts and holds moisture while providing support for the epidermis.
The slippery, gel-like nature of HA plays other important roles, given its remarkable moisture trapping abilities. At Southern Westchester Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, we look most often to hyaluronic acid’s properties as a lubricant and healing agent. The fluid that surrounds many of the joints in your body contains high levels of natural HA, and we also use it as a supplement.
Natural hyaluronic acid in the body
As well as in the synovial fluid surrounding joints, HA can be found in the eyes and the skin. Because it excels at hydration, it’s no surprise that HA occurs naturally in the eyes. In synthetic form, it’s a frequent ingredient in eye drops and dry eye treatments.
In the skin, natural hyaluronic acid aids stretching and flexibility. This is great news for anti-aging because it reduces the depth of lines and wrinkles while enhancing skin firmness. HA readily absorbs through the skin, giving it potential as a delivery method for topical medications.
Hyaluronic acid and your joints
As orthopedic specialists, our interest is in HA’s role in your joints, where it exists in its highest concentrations. There are three characteristics of hyaluronic acid that come into play when you have joint issues.
The slick gel of HA is ideal as a joint lubricant, keeping all surfaces within the joint capsule coated to reduce friction. HA also acts as a shock absorber where needed in weight bearing joints.
Hyaluronic acid is part of your body’s inflammation fighting resources. After an injury or during a degenerative condition like osteoarthritis, HA may help reduce inflammation and pain. This could be one reason that keeping arthritic joints mobile produces pain reduction and increased mobility.
The growth of bone and cartilage tissue relies, in part, on the presence of HA. An extension of its anti-inflammatory properties, hyaluronic acid contributes to the tissue regeneration process.
Osteoarthritis is a common cause of knee pain, and part of the progression of the disease is the thinning of hyaluronic acid in the knee’s joint capsule. This reduces its effectiveness as both a lubricant and a shock absorber, making the prospect of painful bone-on-bone contact more likely.
Synthetic HA injections may be the answer to reduced synovial fluid quality and quantity. It’s a treatment called viscosupplementation, adding to the volume of fluid in the joint capsule to restore levels as well as providing a resource for your body’s healing mechanisms. It may reduce or eliminate the need for pain medications while improving joint flexibility and mobility.
Patients who can’t use conventional painkillers may try hyaluronic acid injections as an alternate form of treatment. Oral HA supplements can be purchased over the counter, and studies show they produce mild improvements in knee pain with little to no risk for the patient.
Contact Southern Westchester Orthopedics & Sports Medicine when you need a medical partner for knee pain management. You can reach the nearest of our offices by phone or online. Book a consultation today to learn more about HA viscosupplementation.