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Are Injections A Good Treatment for Arthritis?

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Arthritis is one of the most common sources of pain and discomfort in my patients, especially as they get older. This degenerative disease affects more than 52.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. For perspective, that’s more than one in five adults.

As a leading cause of disability, it’s no wonder that so many patients are eager to get a quick fix for their joint pain and stiffness. Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. (Also, it’s worth mentioning here that “arthritis” is a rather vague umbrella term that includes more than 100 different types. Usually, when people say “arthritis” they are referring to osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Less common, but still significant: fibromyalgia and gout.)

Your Options for Improving Symptoms of Arthritis

I’ve written before about non-surgical remedies for arthritis. These approaches are generally recommended before joint replacement surgery, as they are fairly conservative, more affordable, less invasive, and low risk (in comparison to hip or knee replacement).

Somewhere between surgery and topical and oral pain medications are… steroid injections. Many patients are aware of steroid injections for treating arthritis, but the pros and cons of this therapy can be a little murky. One of your friends may have had an excellent experience with injections, getting rid of all or most of their joint pain for months, while you may have another friend who swears she’ll never go down that road again!

Let’s take a look closer look at steroid/hyaluronic acid injections…

Injections for Arthritis: Pros and Cons

Steroids are synthetic drugs that function like cortisol, a naturally occurring hormone in the body that decreases inflammation. Steroid injections reduce inflammation in a joint and also limit immune system activity that causes inflammation in the affected joint. Oftentimes, hyaluronic acid is included in the injection. This substance (which occurs naturally in the body) helps lubricate the joint.

Sounds like a great pairing, doesn’t it? The problem with these injections is that their effects are only temporary, lasting for several weeks or months (depending on the patient). Why not just get another injection after the previous one wears off? Over time, repeat steroid injections can cause irreversible damage to the joint by weakening the skin, soft tissues, tendons, and bones of the area around the injection site.

Generally, patients are recommended three to four injections per year.

What’s The Final Word On Steroid Injections?

Talk to your doctor. Injections aren’t all bad. They can provide much needed relief in the right circumstances. However, they are usually not a long-term therapy.

Joint Pain Evaluated By An Orthopedic Physician in Downtown Houston

Take the Arthritis Assessment
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If you’re experiencing joint pain, call Houston Institute for Sports Medicine and Orthopedics at (713) 756-5546. Or, use the link above to take a 60-second arthritis questionnaire and have someone from our office call you.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.