An injection of cortisone—also known as a steroid shot—is a common and popular treatment option to temporarily relieve pain for those with osteoarthritis.
Cortisone injections work by drastically cutting the inflammation in an arthritic joint. If the shot works for you (it doesn’t work for everyone), you can have a pain-free window of time to strengthen the joint through an exercise or physical therapy program.
However, the injection has some significant drawbacks too: its pain-relieving action doesn’t last that long, plus it can cause short-term side effects such as cortisone flares and blood glucose surges.
New injection lasts longer, has fewer side effects
An injection option that was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may be an answer to some of the problems with cortisone shots. It’s an extended-release cortisone shot that continues to deliver a low level of cortisone over a period of several weeks.
The new injection option, known as Zilretta, offers 2 big advantages over the traditional steroid injection:
- Longer period of pain relief
While a traditional cortisone shot offers pain relief for a few weeks, the makers of Zilretta say it relieves pain for up to 3 months. This extended pain-relieving power is especially helpful considering that steroid injections can only be given so often—and so many times total—to avoid the risk for soft tissue damage.
- Fewer side effects
Because Zilretta delivers a lower level of cortisone over a long period, the cortisone is less likely to enter the body’s whole system and cause negative side effects, such as the temporary surge in blood glucose caused by traditional cortisone shots. This can be harmful, particularly for those with diabetes.
Cortisone shots are part of an overall treatment plan
The new injection option is not recommended for more than a single dose for now, and its price may make it prohibitive for some patients. But it’s a promising new approach to relieving pain for those with osteoarthritis.
Also, keep in mind that cortisone shots do nothing to treat the joint damage itself. They should be used in the context of a larger treatment plan that aims to strengthen the joint and slow degeneration.