This factsheet is for people who are having a steroid joint injection, or who would like information about it.
Injecting steroids into a painful joint can help ease pain and reduce swelling, for example from injury or arthritis.
You will meet the doctor carrying out your procedure to discuss your care. It may differ from what is described here as it will be designed to meet your individual needs.
- About steroid joint injections
- What are the alternatives to a steroid joint injection?
- Preparing for a steroid joint injection
- What happens during a steroid joint injection
- What to expect afterwards
- Recovering from a steroid joint injection
- What are the risks?
About steroid joint injections
Your doctor may suggest having a steroid injection if one of your joints is affected by arthritis, such as your shoulder, knee, elbow or wrist joint. Steroid joint injections can help reduce pain and swelling in your joint and allow it to move more easily. Steroid injections can also be used to ease pain and swelling in soft tissues, for example to treat tennis elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome. However, this factsheet will focus on steroid injections into joints.
The steroids used for joint injections are similar to those produced naturally by your body.
Your pain relief can last for anything from one week to two months or longer, depending on the type of steroid you have injected. The injections can be repeated every three to four months with no more than three injections in one year.
What are the alternatives to a steroid joint injection?
The alternative to steroid joint injections will depend on what is causing your pain. Alternative treatments include steroid tablets, anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers and physiotherapy. Speak to your doctor about the options available to you.
Preparing for a steroid joint injection
Your doctor will explain how to prepare for your procedure. The injection may be done in a hospital or at your doctor’s surgery. This will depend on the joint that is being injected.
The injection may also contain a local anaesthetic, or you may be given a separate injection of local anaesthetic before your steroid injection. This helps to temporarily relieve pain as you have the steroid injection.
Your doctor will discuss with you what will happen before, during and after your procedure, and any pain you might have. This is your opportunity to understand what will happen, and you can help yourself by preparing questions to ask about the risks, benefits and any alternatives to the procedure. This will help you to be informed, so you can give your consent for the procedure to go ahead, which you may be asked to do by signing a consent form.
What happens during a steroid joint injection
Your doctor will examine the area and clean the skin with a sterile wipe.
He or she will then inject the steroid. If you’re having a local anaesthetic, your doctor may give this as a combined injection with the steroid using a single syringe. Alternatively, you may have two separate injections. For certain joints, such as a hip joint, your doctor may use ultrasound or X-rays during the procedure to help guide the injection into the right spot.
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 doctor may draw the fluid out with a syringe before your injection. This is known as joint aspiration.
What to expect afterwards
After a local anaesthetic it may take several hours before the feeling comes back into the treated joint. Take special care not to bump or knock the area.
You may need pain relief to help with any discomfort as the anaesthetic wears off.
You will usually be able to go home when you feel ready. Before you go home, your doctor may assess the movement you have in your joint and give you some exercises to do at home.
Recovering from a steroid joint injection
You will feel some discomfort as the local anaesthetic wears off.
If you’re having physiotherapy, your physiotherapist may encourage you to move the joint. Alternatively, you may be advised to keep movements to a minimum for a day or two, so it’s important to follow your doctor or physiotherapist’s advice.
Most people have no problems after steroid joint injections. However, contact your doctor if you have a high temperature or persistent swelling or pain in the joint that doesn’t settle within 24 hours.
What are the risks?
As with every procedure, there are some risks associated with steroid joint injections. We have not included the chance of these happening as they are specific to you and differ for every person. Ask your doctor to explain how these risks apply to you.