Steroid Injections: Purpose, Benefits, Side Effects, Cost, Time to Work

Ms. Thula Chelvan
Published at: 15/4/2024

Steroid Injections: Purpose, Benefits, Side Effects, Cost, Time to Work

Key Takeaways

  • Steroid injections are potent anti-inflammatory treatments that offer relief from pain and inflammation in joints and soft tissues.

  • They provide quick pain relief and could potentially reduce the need for oral steroids, with fewer side effects.

  • Steroid injections can have side effects such as temporary discomfort, muscle atrophy and some flunctuation in blood sugar levels which are generally rare and manageable, despite their effectiveness.

  • The cost of steroid injections can vary, but they are often covered by insurance and are cost-effective compared to long-term medication or surgery.

  • Steroid injections can provide relief within 24 to 48 hours and the benefits can last for several weeks or more.

What Is the Purpose of Steroid Injections?

Steroid injections (corticosteroid injections) are designed to tackle persistent inflammation and pain that just won't go away. We use steroid injections for conditions such as arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis to help you move more easily and feel better.

Common examples of steroid injections are hydrocortisone, methylprednisolone, and triamcinolone. These injections are given in a few different ways which are: 

  • intra-articular (into a joint)

  • intramuscular (into a muscle)

  • epidural (into the spine

  • intravenous (into the blood)

Treatment for Soft Tissue and Joint Conditions

Steroid injections are quite a multi-tool. They can treat a variety of soft tissue and joint conditions, from a frozen shoulder to a painful knee.

Benefits of Steroid Injections

Above and beyond, steroid injections keep you active and participating.

Rapid Pain Relief

When you're in pain and in need of urgent relief. Steroid injections are like a shortcut to recovery. They kick in fast, often within a day or two, providing the relief you need to get on with your life.

Decreased Dependence on Oral Medication

Another advantage of steroid injections includes the decreased need to take pills particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen. Oral medications can be like a rollercoaster for your body, with highs and lows and unexpected twists. Steroid injections, however, are more consistent, targeting pain without the systemic side effects that oral steroids can bring.

Can Delay Surgery

For some, these injections are a miracle, delaying or even preventing the need for surgery. Beyond pain relief, steroid injections can play a crucial role in extending the lifespan of your natural knee joint. In some cases, these injections can significantly delay, or even prevent, the need for a total knee replacement surgery, a procedure which involves replacing the damaged joint surfaces with artificial components.

Potential Side Effects of Steroid Injections

Like any medical procedure, steroid injections can have side effects, but they're pretty uncommon and are short-term. 

Recognizing Usual Side Effects

Some individuals may notice redness or pain where the injection was given within the first 24 hours, while others may feel slightly feverish or notice a shift in their mood or sleeping habits, but these responses usually calm down on their own within 1-3 days. Most of these side effects can also be handled with simple solutions like ice packs or over-the-counter pain relievers.Steroid Injections Purpose, Benefits, Side Effects, Cost, Time to Work

Applying an ice pack to the injection site for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day, can help reduce inflammation and pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can also be effective in managing discomfort.

Consequences of Regular Steroid Injections

So, if you're receiving these injections regularly, you should consider a few more things. Regular injections can cause the skin to become thin or cause the bones and tendons around the injection site to become weak. This occurs because corticosteroids suppress the natural production of collagen, a protein vital for tissue strength and elasticity. Therefore, it's crucial to space out your injections and keep those paths fresh and vibrant. For most individuals, this means waiting at least three months between injections in the same joint.

Cost of Steroid Injections?

The price can be affected by what kind of steroid is used, where the injection is given, and what kind of place it is given. It's a recipe of factors that make up the total cost and when considering the cost-effectiveness of steroid injections versus other treatments, such as long-term medication or surgery, it's essential to examine the specifics of each option.

For instance, a simple steroid injection may range from $100 to $600 in cost per injection. For a patient with chronic pain, they might need only 2 to 4 injections per year to manage their pain. However, if you're opting for a more sophisticated treatment, such as a guided injection with imaging, you could be looking at a higher price tag. Long-term medication can cost anywhere from $100 to $500 per month, depending on the medication and insurance coverage. Over a year, this could amount to $1,200 to $6,000, which is significantly more expensive than the cost of steroid injections.

Surgery, as a more invasive option, can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the type of surgery and the healthcare provider. While surgery may be a more permanent solution, it also carries the risk of complications and a longer recovery time, which can lead to additional costs.

Therefore, when considering the cost-effectiveness of steroid injections, it's clear that they can be a more affordable option for managing chronic pain compared to long-term medication or surgery. By requiring fewer treatments per year and costing less per treatment, steroid injections can provide significant cost savings for patients.

How Long Does It Take for Steroid Injections to Work?

Steroid injections are a popular treatment option due to their potential for relatively quick pain relief. Similar to jumpstarting the body's natural healing process, these injections can significantly reduce inflammation and discomfort. While many patients experience noticeable improvement within a few days (2-3 days on average), the exact timeframe can vary depending on several individual factors.

How Long It Lasts

With steroid injections, you won't just feel better for a little while. The relief can last for several weeks or even months. How long you'll feel the benefits of a steroid injection can depend on several things, including the severity of your condition, your overall health, and how your body responds to the steroid.

Factors Affecting Relief Timeline

  • Type of Steroid: Different corticosteroid medications have varying potency levels and absorption rates. For instance, short-acting corticosteroids like triamcinolone acetonide (Kenalog) may provide relief within hours, while longer-acting formulations like betamethasone (Celestone Chronodose) might take several days to reach their full effect.

  • Severity of Inflammation: The degree of inflammation present at the injection site can influence how quickly symptoms improve. In cases of acute inflammation, pain relief may be more rapid compared to chronic inflammatory conditions.

  • Underlying Condition: The specific condition being treated with the steroid injection can also play a role. For example, patients with bursitis may experience faster relief than those with osteoarthritis, as the underlying mechanisms of inflammation differ.

MSK Doctors for Your Steroid Injections

Here at MSK Doctors, we have gathered the top specialists in musculoskeletal health. Our extensive directory is meant to help you find the best fit for your health needs, guaranteeing you receive the best care possible.

At MSK Doctors, we take a big-picture view of your health. Steroid injections are only one part of the equation. We aim to fit them into a larger treatment strategy that’s customized to your specific needs. Our goal isn’t just to alleviate your symptoms—it’s to improve your overall health.

Contact us today to learn more about steroid injections and how they can help you live a pain-free life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Are Steroid Injections Used For?

Steroid injections can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. They can be beneficial for:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Psoriatic arthritis

  • Gout

  • Sciatica

  • Back pain

  • Bursitis

  • Tendonitis

For instance, a patient suffering from severe knee pain due to osteoarthritis may get a steroid injection to lessen inflammation and pain, thus improving their movement and life quality.

How Frequently Can You Safely Get Steroid Injections?

Typically, it's advised to space out steroid injections with gaps of at least 3 to 4 months. However, the exact frequency will depend on your specific condition and how you respond to the treatment. Your doctor will guide you on the safest schedule for your situation.

What Else Can I Do Instead of Steroid Injections?

If steroid injections aren't the best fit for you, there are other options, such as:

  • Physiotherapy

  • Anti-inflammatory pills

  • Acupuncture

  • Changes in lifestyle, such as changes in diet and exercise

Speak with your physician about the best option for you, based on your health and personal preferences.

Is it Safe to Drive After Getting a Steroid Injection?

Generally, most individuals are able to drive following a steroid injection. However, it is advised to wait until any numbness from the anesthesia has subsided. If you are uncertain or if the injection was administered in an area that could potentially affect your ability to safely drive, it would be wise to have someone else drive you.

What should you do to get ready for a steroid injection?

Getting ready for a steroid injection is simple:

  • Talk to your doctor about your complete medical history, including any allergies or medications you are currently taking.

  • Follow the instructions given by your doctor about eating, drinking, and medication restrictions before the procedure.

  • Wear comfortable clothes that will allow easy access to the area where the injection will be given.

  • If necessary, arrange for someone to drive you home.

Remember, the healthcare provider is there to make sure your treatment is as effective and comfortable as possible. Don't hesitate to consult with them to learn more.

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