A study presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons in 2003 showed that Synvisc injections are as effective as steroid (cortisone) injections in controlling the pain of damaged cartilage in the knee. Synvisc costs about $5000, compared to five dollars for cortisone.
Synvisc (the brand name for hylan) is a gel that is injected three times into the knee to serve as a padding to cushion broken cartilage. The benefits of gel last only up to about six months. Cortisone injections reduce swelling and pain, but weaken the cartilage, so most doctors do not give these injections more than three times into the same joint during a lifetime.
If only a small piece of cartilage is damaged, cartilage replacement may be recommended. However, when a lot of cartilage is damaged the only effective treatment is a knee replacement. Most doctors do not recommend this until almost all of the cartilage is gone and knee pain is so severe that it disrupts a person’s life.