Injections for Knee Arthritis: What Athletes Need to Know

An athlete running and performing a jump

Knee arthritis is a degenerative condition that affects a significant portion of the population, especially athletes due to the rigorous demands placed on their joints. As athletes seek to maintain peak performance and prolong their careers, understanding the available treatments for knee arthritis becomes paramount. This article delves into the intricacies of knee arthritis and the therapeutic injections available to manage it.

Understanding Knee Arthritis 

Knee osteoarthritis is a progressive joint disease characterised by the breakdown of joint cartilage and the underlying bone. Primary causes include age-related wear and tear, genetic predisposition, obesity, joint injury, and repetitive stress on the joint, often seen in athletes.

Common symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. For athletes, these symptoms can lead to reduced performance, difficulty in training, and prolonged recovery times.

Types of Therapeutic Injections for Knee Arthritis

Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injections

Mechanism: PRP injections utilise the patient’s own blood, which is processed to concentrate the platelets and then injected into the affected knee. These platelets release growth factors that play a vital role in wound healing and tissue repair.

Benefits: PRP injections can reduce pain, improve joint function, and potentially slow, halt, or even repair damage to cartilage.

Procedure: Blood is drawn from the patient, processed in a centrifuge to concentrate the platelets, and then injected into the affected knee.

Hyaluronic Acid Injections (Viscosupplementation)

Mechanism: Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in joint fluid, acting as a lubricant and shock absorber. Viscosupplementation involves injecting hyaluronic acid into the knee to supplement the natural supply.

Benefits: These injections can reduce pain, inflammation, and improve joint movement. They can be particularly beneficial for athletes who need to maintain optimal joint function.

Procedure: A series of injections are typically given over several weeks, depending on the specific product used.

Comparison with Other Injections: Unlike cortisone injections, which provide rapid relief but may wear off quickly, hyaluronic acid injections tend to offer relief that is more gradual but lasts longer.

Current Evidence: Numerous studies have shown the benefits of viscosupplementation in reducing pain and improving function, especially in patients with mild to moderate osteoarthritis.

Guidance for Athletes

Knee arthritis can pose significant challenges for athletes. The pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion can hinder training routines, affect performance during competitions, and prolong recovery periods.

Choosing the Right Injection Therapy

Assessing Severity and Symptoms: The choice of injection often depends on the severity of the arthritis and the specific symptoms experienced. For instance, athletes with acute flare-ups might benefit more from PRP injections, while those with chronic pain might find more relief from viscosupplementation.

Considering Athletic Goals: Short-term and long-term athletic goals can influence the choice of treatment. An athlete close to retirement might have different treatment preferences compared to someone in the early stages of their career.

Frequency of Treatment: Some treatments might require regular sessions, while others might offer longer-lasting relief. Athletes should consider their training and competition schedules when opting for a particular therapy.

Role of Physical Therapy

Complementing Injections: Physical therapy can complement the effects of injections, helping to strengthen the muscles around the knee, improve flexibility, and enhance joint function.

Rehabilitation: Post-injection, a tailored rehabilitation programme can expedite recovery, ensuring athletes return to their sport safely and effectively.

Injury Prevention: Regular physical therapy can also play a role in preventing further injuries or the progression of arthritis.

Risks and Benefits

Potential Side Effects: While therapeutic injections are generally safe, there can be potential side effects, such as pain at the injection site, infection, or allergic reactions. Discuss these side effects with a rheumatologist.

Performance Enhancement: While the primary goal of these injections is pain relief and improved joint function, they can indirectly enhance athletic performance by allowing more effective training and reduced downtime.

Long-Term Implications: Athletes should also consider the long-term implications of repeated injections, especially if they plan to remain active in their sport for many years.


By collaborating with a rheumatologist and considering the information presented, athletes can make informed decisions to manage their condition and maintain their performance levels.