Inflammation is our bodies’ reaction to damage to tissues, either as a result of an injury or wear and tear over time. This process may cause pain and swelling of the affected area. The symptoms of inflammation may make it difficult to continue with everyday activities but if the inflammation can be reduced, the pain associated with the injury can be relieved.
Corticosteroids are a type of powerful anti-inflammatory medicine that can be injected directly into the affected area and are proven to be highly effective at reducing inflammation and therefore relieving pain. Corticosteroid injections can be used to treat many conditions. Some examples are:
- Joint arthritis
- Bursitis (inflammation of small fluid filled pockets around your joints)
- Rotator cuff injuries
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Corticosteroid injection is a straightforward procedure. Your surgeon may combine the corticosteroid medicine with a local anaesthetic which often provides some immediate improvement in symptoms. With the exception of injections to treat back pain, the procedure can usually be carried out in your surgeon’s rooms. He may use an ultrasound machine to ensure the appropriate area is accurately targeted to give you the most benefit from the procedure. This is not necessary for all joints for example knees, as the knee joint is easy to locate without the need for additional imaging equipment. Your surgeon will clean the area to be injected and will use sterile equipment for the procedure. The needle required is usually the same size as is used for a blood test so most people do not experience significant discomfort during the injection. There are usually no specific precautions required after the injection and you’ll often be able to return to normal activities straight away.
Corticosteroids injections are generally very safe and the majority of people who have them experience no complications or adverse effects. However, like any procedure or medication, there is a risk of side effects. More common side effects include:
- Temporary pain or bruising at the injection site
- Flushing or redness of your face for a few hours
- If you are diabetic, the corticosteroid injection may elevate your blood sugars for a few days following the procedure
- A transient rise in blood pressure that lasts a few days after your injection
Other side effects are fairly rare but might be more serious. This includes:
- Infection in the area that has been injected. This might require treatment with antibiotics and in extreme cases, surgery to washout an infection might be necessary
- Damage to the structures around the injection site such as the tendons, skin or bones
It is also important to remember that corticosteroid injections can help relieve symptoms of inflammation but do not specifically treat the underlying problem.As a result, the effect is expected to be temporary, usually not more than 3 months before symptoms may return. For example, people with knee arthritis often report that the pain from their arthritis is significantly improved after an injection because the inflammation in the knee is reduced but the underlying arthritis is still there. In most cases, it is safe to repeat these injections but you will need to discuss the risks and benefits with your surgeon.