UCLA doctors offer new pinhole procedure to treat osteoarthritis of knee

More people of all ages are getting knee replacement surgery, but thousands aren't candidates because of several factors. Doctors at UCLA are studying a new, less invasive option and getting great results.

Gianni Contardo, 55, said he's too young for knee replacement, but acute, osteoarthritis pain prevents him from being active.

"My daughter likes to go to trampoline parks and that's something that I just cannot do," he said. "It's excruciating."

He hopes a new minimally invasive procedure being studied at UCLA Santa Monica will make the pain disappear.

"The concept of the procedure is to reduce people's inflammation in their knee," said Dr. Sid Padia, director of interventional radiology.

Geniculate Artery Embolization, or GAE, is routinely performed to cut off the blood supply to cancerous tumors and uterine fibroids.

Now, Padia is using it to reduce circulation to inflammation causing knee pain.

"The whole thing is done through a pinhole in the skin. It's done via moderate sedation, conscious sedation so anesthesia is not required," he said.

Padia places tiny particles in the small arteries that feed the inflammation. Four out of five patients report long-lasting relief.

Valerie Rigual, 64, had the procedure done in March. Within two months, she felt a difference.

"I have no pain or disability at this point," she said. "I'm not considering any type of knee replacement at this point."

"At UCLA since 2017, we've treated over 50 patients and we've had extraordinarily good results," Padia said.

If you cut off the excess blood flow feeding the pain and inflammation and then you go back to using your knee, does that mean your joint continues to worsen? Padia said not necessarily.

The breakdown of knee cartilage is like the wear and tear of brake pads in your car.

"And if we can reduce all that friction all that inflammation surrounding this," he said. "We can potentially slow down this process."

People who smoke or have damaged arteries are not candidates. Researchers are still accepting patients. Contardo hopes to be back in action soon.

"This is an option that can hopefully help and buy me some time," he said.

Padia said the next step is to study how well this works for shoulder and elbow pain.
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