Among other things, osteoarthritis can cause intense knee pain. There may be hope for people who want to avoid open surgery, however, in the form of a minimally-invasive treatment known as geniculate artery embolization. Although it's been investigated internationally over the past several years, research on the first US clinical trials of the procedure was presented this Monday.

Called GAE for short, geniculate artery embolization is an image-guided outpatient treatment that takes 45 to 90 minutes to perform, and doesn't require any subsequent physical therapy.

It involves making a pinhole incision and then inserting catheters and microscopic beads that block blood flow to the tiny arteries and capillaries within the lining of the knee. This reduces osteoarthritis-caused inflammation, thus reducing pain and increasing the range of motion.

In the multicenter clinical trial, GAE was successfully performed on 13 patients with severe osteoarthritis knee pain – the degree of their discomfort and disability was evaluated both before and after treatment. When the progress of eight of those patients was assessed a month after the procedure, they were found to have an average 80 percent improvement in function.

"This procedure could have a significant impact in the treatment of osteoarthritis pain as a whole," says Dr. Sandeep Bagla of the Vascular Institute of Virginia, lead author of the study. "The current mainstay of treatment in patients who have arthritis are pain medications, which come with significant side effects and risks. But GAE provides another option for patients struggling with pain and may even allow patients to avoid the painful recovery of knee surgery and the need for the kind of opioid pain medications associated with the dangerous epidemic in the United States."