The Benefits & Downsides of Steroid Injection Therapy
Inflammation is one of the ways the body tries to defend itself from injury or disease. No matter where you are in your recovery process, or what your body has been through, your body might be dealing with inflammation that you’re having a hard time managing. When it gets to this unmanageable point, you may be looking for treatment options. Your doctor may recommend steroid injection therapy, which could help decrease inflammation, which will also decrease your pain and discomfort. If this is an option you are considering, you might have some questions and concerns about it. What are the benefits and downsides of it and are steroid injections the right choice for you? Let’s take a look at your options.
What are steroid injections?
Steroid injection, also called corticosteroid injections or steroid injection therapy, is a form of anti-inflammatory medicine injected into the body. Steroid injections can be injected into a joint, into a muscle, into the blood or into the spine. But how do they work?
Steroid injections are man made drugs that closely resemble hormones that are normally produced in the body, such as cortisol which is produced by the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands are the two small glands found above the kidneys. When they are injected into the body, steroids can help the surrounding area and reduce stiffness, pain, and inflammation. Steroid injections are often used to combat autoimmune conditions and many other conditions that cause similar reactions and pain. As mentioned, steroid injection therapy can be used for a myriad of needs, but in the orthopedic world, they are used for joint pain, joint discomfort, and joint conditions. Injections are effective because they deliver a high dose of medication directly to a problem spot in your body, unlike other forms of medication that have to travel. This is often a really great approach to target pain in a direct way, especially if the pain is constant or has become a repetitive issue. Steroid injections are also a good conservative form of treatment.
Here are some of the most common treatments that steroid injections can help:
- Back pain
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Inflamed bursae (bursitis)
- Around inflamed tendons (tendonitis) near the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, hand or wrist
- Joint injury
- Muscle injury
When should you turn to steroid injections?
If you’re experiencing any of the conditions above, your doctor may recommend steroid injections. Before you decide whether that step is right for you or not, there are some things to be aware of such as the benefits, risks, and other options.
Benefits of steroid injections
Steroid injections are often used to decrease pain and side effects caused by inflammation in the body. Since they are injected, they are usually able to target a specific area of the body quickly, as opposed to oral medication that needs to travel through the body to get to the area of pain. Local steroid injections are also less likely to cause serious side effects than other forms of steroid medications. Overall, when steroid injections are used, the affected area will end up with less pain and ideally better function.
When it comes to the potential risks of steroid injections, the side effects may really depend on how often the injection therapy is used on you. With larger doses and repeated use, risks and side effects are more common. Your doctor may choose to limit the number of cortisone shots in one area in order to avoid these risks. Here are some side effects that can occur:
- Death/injury of nearby bone
- Joint infection
- Temporary facial flushing
- Temporary increase in blood sugar
- Cartilage damage
- Temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint
- Thinning of the skin and the soft tissue around the injection site
- Tendon weakening or rupturing
- Thinning of nearby bone (otherwise known as osteoporosis)
- Whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site
- Allergic reactions
- Local bleeding
- And more
What are alternative ways to deal with inflammation?
If you or your doctor are worried about the potential risks, there may be alternative methods for you to consider. While steroid injection therapy can be really beneficial for managing pain, there are other pain management methods that may work better for you, depending on your injury and medical history. Here are some of the most common alternative ways to deal with inflammation:
- Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP injections): Platelet-rich plasma therapy is a form of regenerative medicine that harnesses the body’s ability to heal itself by amplifying natural ways to heal tissue.
- Non-Steroid injection therapy: non-steroid injection therapy is when an injection is inserted into a joint or muscle in order to provide lubrication. There are a few non-steroid injections used such as hyaluronic acid treatments like Hymovis®.
- Stem cell therapy: Stem cell-based therapy helps to regenerate or repair a tendon or muscle. Instead of using plasma, it uses the body’s stem cells. Much like PRP therapy, it takes what is naturally created in the body to amplify the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
Deciding on steroid injections
Sometimes, even after examining all of the alternative methods of controlling your inflammation, steroid injections may still be the best option for you. Your doctor will take a look at your unique body’s anatomy and your medical history to make the best choice for you. If your doctor has decided that you should move forward with steroid injections, it’s time to figure out the next steps.
First, let’s take a look at the cost. In most cases, your health insurance should cover at least a portion of the cost. Even so, the price of your steroid injection therapy may depend on where the injection site is located and what the injection is going to be used for. If the injection therapy is deemed “medically necessary,” insurance may cover it in full. This is something to work through and discuss with your doctor and physician’s office.
Next, let’s talk about recovery. In terms of recovery, it can depend on how often or how many cortisone shots you have recently received. After receiving a cortisone shot, some people might experience redness or a feeling of warmth in their chest and face. These side effects are normal and expected. If you have diabetes, recovery may take longer. Cortisone shots may cause implications such as increased blood sugar levels. For all patients, your doctor may recommend that you recover by:
- Icing the injection locations
- Protecting the injection area for several days
- Avoiding all heavy lifting
- Staying off your feet and resting
- Avoiding bathing, hot tubs, heating pads or whirlpools for several days
Even after these precautions are taken, doctors will also recommend that you keep an eye out for signs of infection, such as swelling, redness and pain.
Your Next Steps
Now that you know about the benefits and downsides of steroid injections, you may be wondering about your next steps. If you are concerned about your orthopedic health, we recommend scheduling an appointment with Integrated Orthopedics today. Your orthopedic doctor will take all of the steps of appropriate preventative care for your concern and develop a treatment plan that will suit you best.