Medical professional with syringe
Arthritis injections are used to help relieve pain and swelling that are the result of arthritic conditions.

What are Arthritis Injections?

When we think of steroids, we tend to conjure an image of a bodybuilder or athlete instead of a treatment for arthritis. Arthritis injections use a different kind of steroids to ease your pain and don’t cause you to bulk up.

Steroid Injections for Arthritis

Arthritis injections are used to help relieve pain and swelling that are the result of arthritic health conditions. Injecting a steroid is effective at locally reducing pain and swelling, which makes you feel like your old self in no time.

Your body naturally produces steroids that help you perform many functions, like controlling your metabolism, giving you strength, balancing salt content, and reducing inflammation. Steroid injections are meant to act as natural steroids to help relieve inflammation and reduce pain.

Depending on the location of the pain and inflammation, steroids can be injected directly into the inflamed joint, in the soft tissue close to the joint, or into a muscle.

Common types of steroid injections are hydrocortisone, triamcinolone, and methylprednisolone.

Hyaluronic Acid Injections for Arthritis

Another type of injection that doctors may use is hyaluronic acid injections.

Hyaluronic acid is a substance in your synovial fluid (the shock-absorbing, lubricating liquid in your joints that allows your bones to glide against each other). Hyaluronic acid injections are used to treat osteoarthritis in the knee, and sometimes other joints by replenishing the hyaluronic acid.

Studies have mixed responses on the effectiveness of hyaluronic acid injections, but some doctors maintain that this type of injection can produce significant relief for some patients.

Who Should Get Steroid Injections?

Steroid injections do not treat the underlying cause or cure your arthritis (since there is no cure), but injections can help manage the symptoms. If your arthritis is particularly painful, it’s worth checking with your doctor to see if steroid treatment is right for you.

Steroid injections are usually recommended for those with inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis. This type of injection may be beneficial for those with osteoarthritis if their joints are particularly painful or additional pain relief is required short term.

Steroid injections are an option if you are in good health overall; If you have an infection, you are not able to have a steroid injection until you’re back to decent general health.

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Benefits of Arthritis Steroid Injections

Steroid injections are safe for most people. A big perk of steroid injections is fast-acting pain relief. Depending on the type of steroid, injections start to relieve pain in as little as a few hours.

Something to keep in mind: the longer it takes for the drugs to kick in, the longer the relief will last. If you are given an injection for the immediate short term, the pain relief will kick in fairly quickly, but the effects will only last about a week as the drug dissolves quickly in the body and starts working quickly.

Other types of steroid injections can take a couple of days to a week to ease pain, but the effects can last two months or longer. This type of steroid is less soluble, which means the drug takes longer to get into your system.

Another benefit of steroid injections is that they can be given to those of all ages, including children and teens, who may have juvenile arthritis. How well the treatment works and how long it lasts comes down to your condition.

Potential Side Effects of Arthritis Injections

Most people have injections without side effects (aside from short-term discomfort when the injection is first administered). Resting for a day or two after the injection will help reduce side effects.

The risk of side effects depends on the type of steroid injection; the risk is greater with stronger steroid mixtures (methylprednisolone and triamcinolone).

Possible side effects are:

  • Sometimes there is thinning or changes to the color of the skin at the injection site
  • Short-term flushing of the face
  • A loss of fat at the injections site may cause permanent dimples in the skin
  • Temporary bruising
  • Headache
  • Change to appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight gain is a rare side effect unless injections are given more frequently
  • May cause temporary changes to women’s periods
  • May cause changes in mood (more likely if you have a history of experiencing mood disturbance)

Complications/Risks of Arthritis Injections

As with any treatment, there are some risks that you take on. Make sure your doctor outlines all possible complications so you can make an informed decision before pushing forward with steroid injections.

Possible risks include:

  • Rare instances see an infection result in the joint at the time of injection
  • Those with hemophilia may be at an increased risk of bleeding into the joint
  • Steroid injections can raise your blood sugar levels for a few days after the injection, which is particularly important for people with diabetes to note
  • Too many injections into the same area can damage your body’s tissues. It’s recommended that you don’t have more than three injections to the same part of the body within a year (possibly less, depending on how your body handles the treatment)
  • For children, injections should be used in the lowest possible doses for a short period of time otherwise too much steroid treatment could affect their growth
  • If you exercise a joint too much directly after an injection, you may damage the tendon
  • Some people notice increased joint pain within a day of the injection, but this usually settles on its own within a couple of days

Check-in with your doctor to see if steroid injections are the right treatment for your arthritis. Steroid injections may enhance your mobility and comfort, making you feel stronger and increasing your overall ability to get back to activities you enjoy.