Getting Help With My Back

Steroid Injections For Shoulder Joints To Ease Arthritis Pain

by Renee Ruiz

People commonly think of an orthopedist as a surgeon who specializes in correcting problems with bones and joints. While this is certainly true, these doctors also provide other therapies to help patients delay or avoid the need for surgery. For example, a person with shoulder osteoarthritis may benefit significantly from pain management strategies.

Medication, specific exercises, gentle stretching, and electrical nerve stimulation are examples. A steroid injection for the shoulder also may be beneficial.

Advice on Pain Medication

Patients might schedule an appointment because they are worried about how much acetaminophen or ibuprofen they take every day. This over-the-counter medication may no longer be providing effective relief even at the highest recommended doses. The orthopedist will evaluate the amount of medicine the patient is consuming and provide advice on whether this dose and frequency are considered safe.

Steroid Injections

Many people experience remarkable relief after a corticosteroid injection in the shoulder. It's important to understand that these drugs are different from anabolic steroids. Anabolic products are typically used to rapidly build muscle. In contrast, corticosteroids like prednisone and cortisone decrease inflammation.

Oral steroids are available, but a shot sends the anti-inflammatory medication exactly where the body needs it. The patient avoids having the medication affect the entire body and cause side effects. The injection's positive effects also last substantially longer.

Including a Local Anesthetic

Because the injected medication does not take effect for a few days, doctors commonly add a local anesthetic to the shot for fast relief. The full effects of this medicine only last for several hours, but patients appreciate the pain reduction while it lasts. 

A Window of Opportunity

After the steroid's effects take hold, most patients are pain-free for at least several months. During this window of opportunity, the orthopedic doctor will want the patient to participate in physical therapy and perform certain kinds of exercises at home. These activities strengthen muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joint. Flexibility improves as well. This provides pain reduction effects and allows for improved shoulder function when the steroid wears off. 

Important Considerations

Orthopedic surgeons typically limit the number of corticosteroid injections into any one joint to three per year. Eventually, the doctor will let the patient know when surgery is advisable. Repeated steroid injections can cause some damage to the cartilage. That's why the number per year and the total number for one joint are restricted. Additional cartilage damage can compromise the success of a future joint replacement operation. 

For more information, contact an orthopedist.