Injections That Could Ease Your Joint Pain

Several options to help get you moving
Joint Pain Knee Injection

If you’re one of the 30 million adults in the United States who life with joint pain, you know it’s often debilitating. It can keep you from staying active and even make daily chores seem impossible. What you might not know is that your doctor can treat you with more than pills or surgery.

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Depending on the severity of your pain, injections can be another option for easing your joint pain and get you moving again, says sports and medical orthopaedist Jason Genin, DO.

“We use these injections to try to reduce inflammation and pain in your joints,” Dr. Genin says. “With these treatments, you often can experience fewer symptoms for several months.”

There are several injectable options to help treat knee pain.

“The injections range from corticosteroids, which have been around for decades, to newer orthobiologic injections like platelet-rich plasma (PRP),” he says.

Your physician will decide which one is best based on your individual needs, says sports and medical orthopaedist Dominic King, DO.

“Not every injection is right for every patient,” Dr. King says. “We take a lot of time to understand your specific issues and create an injectable plan that works with your entire knee care path.”

Corticosteroid injections

Use: This injection is the first line of defense against osteoarthritis symptoms and other joint pain in shoulders, knees and hips, Dr. King says. Corticosteroids can offer relief for two to three months, and reduce inflammatory cell activity in the joint.

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Side effects: As with all injections, there’s a small chance of infection — about 1 in 1,000.

Hyaluronic acid injections

Use: Hyaluronic acid (HA) injections often are used when corticosteroid injections don’t work. But they usually are approved only for use in the knee.

In some instances, doctors consider HA injections first if you don’t have obvious signs of inflammation. HA also is a better option if you have diabetes, as corticosteroids can raise blood sugar levels.

Also known as gel injections, HA injections are chemically similar to your natural joint fluid.

When you have osteoarthritis, joint fluid becomes watery. So, this injection helps to restore the fluid’s natural properties and works as a lubricant and a shock absorber.

“HA is a cushion or a buffer against inflammatory cells in the joint,” Dr. Genin says. “In some cases, it can stimulate the knee to start producing more natural HA.” Some physicians also believe that HA helps reduce pain by coating nerve endings within the joint.

One treatment, which may consist of between one and three injections, usually offers symptom relief for four to five months, but sometimes up to one year. However, pain and stiffness will return. Most insurance companies only approve one HA injection every six months.

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Side effects: There’s a 1 in 100 chance of an inflammatory reaction, Dr. King says. However, this reaction is less common with the newer HA injections.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections

Use: Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections can treat osteoarthritis joint pain, and are being thoroughly researched to understand their effects, Dr. King says.

These injections use your own blood and platelets to promote healing. Platelets contain growth factors and proteins that aid healing in soft tissues. Research shows PRP injections can alter the immune response to help reduce inflammation, he says.

Side effects: Side effects include a very low risk of infection and pain at the injection site. You also must stop oral anti-inflammatory medications for a short amount of time if you get a PRP injection, Dr. Genin says.

Often, many of these injections are effective in reducing or stopping your joint pain, but it’s important to remember that they may not keep the pain from returning, Dr. King says. In fact, they’re most effective when used with other therapies.

“We consider surgical options and stronger medications only if other treatment options have failed,” he says. “But weight loss, physical therapy and bracing also go a long way toward relieving pain.”

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