Injections of Corticosteroids

What are steroids or corticosteroids?

Steroids or corticosteroids are synthetic versions of the hormone cortisol that reduces inflammation, suppress the immune system and may also have some effect on the way a disease progresses. They are powerful and natural anti-inflammatory agents that can either be taken orally or injected into the affected joint/muscle. They are most commonly used to treat inflammatory arthritis and connective tissue disease.

Some of the most commonly used steroids include cortisone, hydrocortisone and prednisone.

Corticosteroid injection

Corticosteroid can be directly injected into the flared up and affected single joint to calm its inflammation. It can also be given into the muscle so that it can work throughout the body in case of inflammatory arthritis.

Indication for Corticosteroid Injection

A corticosteroid injection works well for almost every type of joint pain that is associated with inflammation. It gives relief for days or months or longer.

  • So, inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis, gout) is the most confirmed indication for corticosteroid injection.

  • It can also be used across the board, including for juvenile arthritis (JA).

  • Connective tissue diseases can also benefit from corticosteroid injections

  • Occasionally they can be used for the short-term treatment of osteoarthritis

How long can I take steroid injections?

Steroids should be used for shortest period of time as they have some side-effects especially if used for longer period of time. In cases where steroid needs to be taken for extended period of time then patient is given other tablets along with steroids to protect against its side-effects. Similarly in cases where steroid needs to be stopped after a certain period of time, it should be done by gradually reducing the dose rather than stopping it at one time.

Risks of Corticosteroid Injections

Although a patient can repeat a steroid shot two to three times a year but more than this will have some risks associated with it. The main risks and side-effects of frequent corticosteroid injection include:

  • Increased fragility of ligaments and tendons that can lead to their rupture

  • Infection

  • Bone thinning

  • Stomach problems like pain or nausea

  • Bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract

  • Skin discoloration

Benefits of Steroid Injections

Although steroid injection is associated with certain risks, but its potential benefits may overweigh the risks in suitable patients. Its benefits include:

  • Generally well tolerated

  • Rarely produce serious side effects

  • Reduces joint inflammation

  • Preserves joint structure and function

  • Help avoid the need or decrease the dose for oral steroids