You may have been told that surgery is the only way to alleviate the pain in your knee, but Robert Willard, general manager and director of operations at the Knee Institute & Regenerative Medicine in West Bloomfield, said many other options exist that are not only less invasive, but produce better results.

That includes a procedure recommended by the American Academy of Rheumatology that uses a natural substance to treat osteoarthritis of the knee. This is a common condition in which the knee’s natural lubricant, called synovial fluid, diminishes with age, resulting in painful friction of the knee joints.

In viscosupplementation therapy, a lubricating gel-like substance called Hyalgan is injected into the knee joint. Pinpoint accuracy is ensured with the use of a fluoroscope, hailed as a breakthrough piece of medical equipment. This imaging technology allows medical staff to look inside your joints in real time so that the Hyalgan is introduced exactly where – and only where – it is needed to cushion the joint and act as a shock absorber. This procedure is covered by most major medical insurance providers and Medicare.

“People may say, ‘Well, I had a shot and it didn’t work for me.’ That’s because the majority of doctors don’t use real-time imaging so they only have a 30-percent success rate,” Willard said. “Six months ago, a study was published that showed a 95-percent success rate with the guided imaging procedure we use. That study included 20,000 patients – a huge sample.”

Willard points to his own success with the procedure. “Two years ago, my orthopedic surgeon told me I would never walk again unless I had total knee replacement surgery. I could barely get out of a chair. After viscosupplementation therapy, I am doing really, really great.

“There is no pain with viscosupplementation,” he added. “You walk in and you walk out of the office.”

After the procedure, the patient wears a hinged brace to support the knee and follows a physical therapy regimen.

Surgeons may say there is no choice but to install an artificial knee, but that is often not the case, Willard said. “The expression ‘bone-to-bone’ is very overused and more often than not, after examining X-rays and MRIs we see that patients do not actually have that condition,” he said. “And once you have a total knee replacement, there are no other options – ever.”

Risks from surgery include heart attack, stroke and infection, and even the strongest metal and plastic parts of an artificial joint eventually wear out, especially with high-impact activities or excessive weight, Willard said. 

The Knee Institute is Michigan’s only facility accredited with the OsteoArthritis Centers of America. The institute uses no surgery or drugs, instead offering state-of-the-art, minimally invasive procedures and comprehensive physical therapy programs that are typically eight weeks in length.

“We provide our patients with a lot of education,” Willard said. “The doctor and the physical therapist sit down together and explain everything that will happen so the patient completely understands what is next. You will never hear us say, ‘This is what you have to have done.’ With our patients, knowledge is power.”

For more information, call the Knee Institute at 248-430-5113 or visit 

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.

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