Osteoarthritis of the knee can be a very disabling condition. Common treatments for arthritis of the knee includes anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, braces and injections.  Those treatments are often effective for many years before you need to consider knee replacement surgery. For some of you , your knee pain does not respond to common treatments. That is when many of you will seek alternative treatments for your knee pain to avoid surgery.

Why some people have more pain than others isn’t always clear.   The pain of arthritis can come from the bone itself, or from the soft tissue lining of the knee joint.  That lining is the synovium. When the synovium becomes inflamed, your knee pain can be severe, and more difficult to treat.

You know the story… getting up from a chair, stiffness in the morning, trying not to have to go up or downstairs too often.  Osteoarthritis of the knee is painful because of inflammation. Over the last 5 years a new treatment for knee arthritis pain has emerged. This new treatment for arthritic knee pain is capable of decreasing your pain for 6 or more years.  That treatment is a selective arterial embolization.  It sounds scary… scroll down and I’ll explain in more detail.

knee arthritis treatment
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Synovitis and Knee Osteoarthritis Pain

knee arthritis pain
Synovitis of the knee occurs when the inside of the knee becomes inflamed. The tissue which lines the knee becomes inflamed, red, and angry appearing.  The synovium, or the lining of the knee normally produces a little bit of fluid for lubricating the knee joint. When the synovium becomes inflamed it will produce a lot more fluid.  That’s often why your knee will be swollen.  If the fluid exits the back of your knee you will develop a Baker’s Cyst as well.

As you will see in the picture below, an increase in blood flow around the knee is causing the inflammation.  This is why many of you might not feel relief of pain for very long after an injection into the knee.  That’s because the excess blood flow is bringing more blood to the painful part of the knee.  That often leads to more nerve growth as well. The blood feeds the synovium.  If the synovium receives more blood then it can grow. As the synovium grows it becomes more irritated and causes more severe knee pain.

Arterial Embolization For Knee Arthritis Pain

Arterial embolization as an alternative treatment for knee osteoarthritis is a process where a Radiologist will inject a dye so they can see your blood vessels. Once the Radiologist sees the area where too many blood vessels have formed they will inject medication or microscopic spheres. Those little spheres will block the tiny abnormal arteries which are feeding your synovium and causing your pain.  As demonstrated in this 2015 paper, selective geniculate artery embolization led to significant and long term relief of knee pain.  In a recent (2017) follow up article, the authors noted that pain relief was sustained for more than 3 years.

arterial embolization for knee arthritis pain

The image above shows a knee arterial embolization procedure.  On the image labeled “B” you see many blood vessels in a small region along the inner side of the knee.  The bones are barely visible due to “digital” subtraction.  That area where the blood vessels are concentrated is often a very tender spot around the inner side of the knee in someone with severe arthritic knee pain.  The picture on the left labeled ” A” shows the results after a selective geniculate artery embolization.

inner knee pain due to arthritis


The picture on the right demonstrates the region of the knee which would correspond to the area of pain I showed in the images of the embolization procedure.  Arthritis can affect many other areas within the knee.  This was just one example where the patient had pain on the inner portion of the knee due to arthritis in that area.  If your arthritis affects other areas then a different artery would be treated.

Recovery From Arterial Embolization

The patients who received a selective geniculate artery embolization for chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis appear to have relief of pain almost immediately. For many that pain relief appears to last at least 6 years in some published reports.  Of course your results might vary, but for now it appears that this is a procedure capable of helping restore your quality of life, improving your function and enables you to avoid knee replacement surgery.  A selective geniculate artery embolization may be a great alternative treatment for pain from osteoarthritis of the knee.

Am I A Candidate For Embolization For My Knee Arthritis Pain?

Not everyone with arthritis knee pain will qualify for this procedure.  Your knee X-rays should show that you suffer from mild to moderate osteoarthritis. This procedure is not likely to work well for those of you who have “bone on bone” or severe arthritis.  This procedure should also be limited to those who have already tried other treatments such as medications, physical therapy, a compression sleeve and weight loss.  A selective arterial embolization is a relatively low risk procedure, but that doesn’t mean that it should be the first treatment you try for your arthritic knee pain.


Images Attribution:

Okuno, Yuji & Mohamed Korchi, Amine & Shinjo, Takuma & Kato, Shojiro. (2014). Transcatheter Arterial Embolization as a Treatment for Medial Knee Pain in Patients with Mild to Moderate Osteoarthritis. Cardiovascular and interventional radiology. 38. . 10.1007/s00270-014-0944-8.



Disclaimer:  this information is for your education and should not be considered medical advice regarding diagnosis or treatment recommendations. Some links on this page may be affiliate links. Read the full disclaimer.

About the author:

Howard J. Luks, MD

Howard J. Luks, MD

A Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon in Hawthorne, NY. Dr. Howard Luks specializes in the treatment of the shoulder, knee, elbow, and ankle. He has a very "social" patient centric approach and believes that the more you understand about your issue, the more informed your decisions will be. Ultimately your treatments and his recommendations will be based on proper communications, proper understanding, and shared decision-making principles – all geared to improve your quality of life.