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Corticosteroids (Intra-Articular) for Osteoarthritis

Examples

Injected

Generic Name
betamethasone
methylprednisolone
triamcinolone

Intra-articular corticosteroids or steroids are medicines injected directly into the joint space of a painful, inflamed arthritic joint. Steroids taken by mouth (orally) are not used for osteoarthritis.

How It Works

Steroids are similar to natural substances produced by the body (hormones) that help reduce inflammation. If inflammation is not a symptom of your osteoarthritis, steroids are less likely to be helpful.

Steroids may be used to reduce inflammation in tendons and ligaments in osteoarthritic joints.

Why It Is Used

If a person has not improved with treatment using analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), an injection of corticosteroid into the joint can sometimes be helpful for short-term pain relief.

How Well It Works

Corticosteroids may relieve pain caused by osteoarthritis for a short amount of time (weeks to months).1

If corticosteroid injections are helpful, symptoms may improve for weeks to months. Some people get long-term relief of 6 months or more with a single cortisone shot. If you have a moderate amount of fluid in the joint, your chances of responding are probably better.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Pain and swelling around the injection site that lasts more than 2 days.

One common side effect of this medicine is pain and swelling the first day or two after the injection. It may help to apply ice at home for 15 to 20 minutes.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

The standard of practice is that steroid injections should be given only 3 or 4 times a year in a single joint area.

Injection of any substance into a joint or tendon has a very small risk of harm, including damage to a tendon, ligament, or nerve; bleeding into the tissue; or infection. Although these rarely happen, your doctor will probably mention the possibilities to you before you get an injection into a joint.

Nobody likes needles. But experienced doctors can usually do the injection in under 30 seconds. It does hurt, but it's quick.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. Intra-articular injections for osteoarthritis of the knee (2006). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 48(1231): 25–27.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kenneth J. Koval, MD - Orthopedic Surgery, Orthopedic Trauma
Last Revised April 8, 2013

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