What are genicular arteries?

 

Genicular arteries supply blood to the knee joint, including the bones, ligaments, tendons and muscles in that area. There are six genicular arteries, and together they play a crucial role in maintaining the health and function of the knee joint. However, for those with osteoarthritis, abnormal blood vessels from the genicular arteries can grow into the bone and become inflamed or compressed. These abnormal growths cause knee pain, swelling and even lead to a loss of function and mobility if not addressed.


Dr. Hicks with knee patient
This image highlights the site of pain in a knee that has one or more abnormal blood vessels before genicular artery embolization.

 

At UChicago Medicine, our innovative interventional radiologists can treat this inflammation with genicular artery embolization (GAE).

 

What is genicular artery embolization?

 

UChicago Medicine is one of the few hospitals, and the first in the Midwest, to offer an advanced treatment to relive severe knee pain. Genicular artery embolization (GAE) is a novel, minimally invasive procedure that treats chronic knee pain caused by osteoarthritis or other degenerative conditions. During the procedure, a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) is inserted into the genicular arteries through a small incision in the groin. Using X-ray guidance, the catheter is directed to the abnormal artery and tiny particles, or beads, are injected into the artery to block blood flow to the area and kill the nerves that is causing the pain. This technique can help reduce joint inflammation, relieve pain and increase mobility to the knee.

 

Dr. Hicks with knee patient
Blood flow has been blocked to a painful nerve and inflammation in the knee is reduced after genicular artery embolization.

 

Genicular artery embolization is a safe and effective alternative to knee replacement surgery for patients who have not found relief from other treatments such as physical therapy, corticosteroid injections or pain medication. The procedure is usually performed on an outpatient basis, and most patients experience a significant improvement within a few weeks of the treatment.

 

How long does GAE take?

 

Genicular artery embolization is quick and effective, with the total time of the procedure taking roughly an hour to complete, and patients are discharged same day. Your interventional radiologist will follow up within a month to check for improvement in your symptoms and also for any potential complications. 

 

When is GAE a good treatment for knee arthritis?

 

Knee arthritis is a complicated condition, with 15 million people in the United States alone suffering from hard-to-treat, long-term chronic pain. Genicular artery embolization is a nonsurgical alternative for patients with knee osteoarthritis-related pain that have not been able to find relief from traditional therapy, such as anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy or knee injections. The typical GAE patient is not a good candidate for, or doesn't want yo undergo a knee repair or replacement surgery. Having GAE does not prevent you from receiving a knee replacement in the future.

 

Who is a good candidate for GAE?

 

Genicular artery embolization is an option to a wide range of knee osteoarthritis patients, with the most common characteristics for a “good candidate” being:

 

  • Active
  • 40-years old and above
  • Moderate or severe knee pain
  • Localized knee pain
  • Little to no improvement with traditional treatment options like steroid injections or pain medications
  • Not eligible or desiring knee replacement

 

GAE can also serve as a bridge to surgery for patients who are suffering from chronic pain, but their knee joint remains in good shape. Because knee replacements have a shelf life, we do not want to recommend surgery until it is truly necessary.

 

Additionally, genicular artery embolization offers treatment to patients who either are not ready for surgery or are not a good surgical candidate because the their osteoarthritis is too advanced or because existing comorbidities, such as diabetes and obesity, make surgery a risky treatment option.

Meet Our Genicular Artery Embolization Team

Nurse Navigator

  • Natasha Rodwell

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