A corticosteroid injection can be performed to reduce pain and can be injected into a joint or soft tissue (i.e bursa, tendon, muscle). They are often used as a treatment modality in a number of different conditions including bursitis, osteoarthritis, frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow.
The injection works by reducing the inflammation and hence the pain. They can be effective for a matter of days to months but usually don’t cure the problem. Occasionally an individual will require more than one injection for it to be beneficial. It is not recommended to have more than three in the same joint in the space of a year.
Sports doctors, specialists, orthopaedic surgeons, radiographers and some GPs can perform these and they can be done with or without the guidance of an ultrasound to ensure they are injecting in the correct area. Although as physiotherapists we cannot perform injections, we can refer a patient to have one done, if deemed appropriate.
After the injection you will be advised against exacerbating that joint for 7-10 days to ensure the steroid stays where it is injected and hence has the best chance at being effective.
Steroid injections are not appropriate for every injury. However, if you and your health professional decide it’s warranted, it’s important to remember, as stated above, that they don’t usually cure the problem. Instead, they are often a great tool in conjunction with physiotherapy as they allow a window of opportunity for the individual to strengthen and optimise movement through that joint, whilst their pain is decreased. This is so that when the steroid stops being effective the problem/underlying cause has been addressed and therefore the risk of the injury and hence pain returning, is lowered.