About joint injections
Injections of steroid medication into joints are given to ease pain and reduce inflammation caused by injury or arthritis. The aim is to help you move the joint more comfortably and easily.
The steroids injected are similar to those produced naturally by the body - not the same as the anabolic steroids used by body builders. Your consultant may also inject a local anaesthetic, mixed with the steroid in the same syringe. Local anaesthetic drugs block the way nerves carry pain signals to your brain. This provides instant pain relief at the time of the injection.
If you have a joint injection without local anaesthetic, it may take a few days until you feel the benefits of the injections. These can then last anything from a few weeks to several months.
Injections are often given under X-ray control. This means that X-ray pictures are used to help your consultant see the inside of the joint and direct the steroid to exactly the right spot.
Joint injections are usually performed as an out-patient or day-case procedure, sometimes with sedation. Sedative drugs relieve anxiety and cause temporary relaxation without putting you to sleep. Some joint injections are routinely done under general anaesthesia, which means you will be asleep throughout the procedure and will feel no pain.
Your consultant will explain the potential benefits of having a joint injection and discuss the associated risks and alternatives to the procedure.
About the treatment
Before the treatment, your consultant will feel and flex the joint. If you are having an injection under X-ray control, the X-ray machine will be positioned over the affected joint. A thin needle is inserted into the joint. Then the steroid, plus any local anaesthetic, is injected. You may have more than one injection.
If you have arthritis you may have too much fluid in your joint making it feel tight and uncomfortable. If this is the case, your consultant may draw the fluid out with a syringe before injecting the joint. This is known as joint aspiration.
Afterwards, you’ll usually need to rest on a bed for an hour or two. Before you go home, a physiotherapist may visit you. He or she will assess the movement you have in your joint and may give you some exercises to do at home
Joint injections are a commonly performed and generally safe procedure. For most people, the benefits in terms of pain relief and improved mobility are greater than the disadvantages. However, all medical procedures carry an element of risk.
Specific complications are uncommon but there is a small risk that injecting a joint can introduce infection. This may need treatment with antibiotics. Other rare complications include damage to nerves or tendons near the joint that has been injected.
If you have repeated joint injections you may be at risk of damage to the soft tissue or cartilage in your joints. You may also increase the chance of steroids building up in your body, which has been linked to problems such as osteoporosis.
The chance of complications depends on the exact type of procedure you are having and other factors such as your general health. You should ask your consultant to explain how any risks apply to you.