Ever imagine that a simple injection might alleviate your osteoarthritis symptoms? It just may become a reality. Corticosteroid injections, or steroid injections for short, are part of the arsenal of treatments for a certain segment of the population that suffers from this painful, sometimes debilitating disease. But how do you know if steroid injections are right for you? Below, some things to consider:

What other therapies have you tried? In general, it's best to start with less invasive treatments once you've been diagnosed with osteoarthritis. "The first step is not typically a steroid injection," asserts Raj Rao, a professor and director of spine surgery in the department of orthopaedic surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. According to Dr. Rao, patients are usually advised to first try non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. After that, they are typically advised to rest the afflicted joint or perhaps try a combination of heat and warmth. The next step might be a course of physical therapy to learn how to keep the joint mobile. If the patient is still suffering, "a limited trial of joint injections with corticosteroids is probably not a bad idea."

Which of your joints is afflicted? Certain joints respond better to steroid treatment than others. The knee, for instance, is a good spot for them. "The knee joint injection goes directly into the joint," explains Dr. Rao. "It's kind of a contained joint and it's less likely that the injection will irritate the ligament." Worse spots for steroid injections? Ankles or any other spots with

Are you aware of the risks? While steroid injections have been given to arthritis sufferers for at least 50 years with mostly good results, there are a few small risks. There's the risk of the injection itself as an invasive procedure which may introduce bacteria into the body. Patients need to be aware that a small amount of the steroid is absorbed systemically into the body. Diabetics in particular need to be careful with steroid shots, because they can affect blood sugar levels.

Assuming you have no other underlying health issues, steroid injections may be a good supplement to your other arthritis treatments. Talk to your doctor about whether you're a candidate for this treatment, and remember that your goal is to have only as many injections as it takes for the problem to lessen. Steroid shots should not be considered routine or done regularly over long periods.


Source: Raj Rao, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin