Intra-articular drug delivery has a number of advantages over systemic administration; however, for the past 20 years, intra-articular treatment options for the management of knee osteoarthritis (OA) have been limited to analgesics, glucocorticoids, hyaluronic acid (HA) and a small number of unproven alternative therapies. Although HA and glucocorticoids can provide clinically meaningful benefits to an appreciable number of patients, emerging evidence indicates that the apparent effectiveness of these treatments is largely a result of other factors, including the placebo effect. Biologic drugs that target inflammatory processes are used to manage rheumatoid arthritis, but have not translated well into use in OA. A lack of high-level evidence and methodological limitations hinder our understanding of so-called ‘stem’ cell therapies and, although the off-label administration of intra-articular cell therapies (such as platelet-rich plasma and bone marrow aspirate concentrate) is common, high-quality clinical data are needed before these treatments can be recommended. A number of promising intra-articular treatments are currently in clinical development in the United States, including small-molecule and biologic therapies, devices and gene therapies. Although the prospect of new, non-surgical treatments for OA is exciting, the benefits of new treatments must be carefully weighed against their costs and potential risks.
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