One of the most immediate ways to relieve the pain of arthritis is to receive an injection of medicine directly into the joint. But which injection is the right option for you?
This post takes a look at the pros and cons for 4 popular injection options:
- Steroid injections
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections
- A combination of injections
Your doctor is the best judge of which injection—or combination of injections—is the right choice for you. But this rundown of their advantages and disadvantages can help guide your discussion with your doctor.
What is it?
Injections of corticosteroid medications—also known as cortisone—can decrease inflammation in the joint.
Read more: Cortisone Injections (Steroid Injections)
When they’re effective, steroid injections can provide immediate pain relief for up to 6 months. This can give people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis a window of pain relief to participate in physical therapy and strengthen the joint.
These injections don’t work for everyone or may offer relief for only a short time. Plus, you can only receive a few injections a year in the same joint, because cortisone can break down soft tissues when it’s used frequently and do more harm than good.
Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP)
What is it?
PRP injections are formulated from your own immune system's platelets, which are extracted from a blood sample, then concentrated to make the injection. This seems to stimulate healing through the production of collagen and to alter pain receptors, which reduces pain.
Because it’s created from the patient’s own blood, PRP injections are safe with very few risks or side effects, so it doesn’t hurt most patients to try it.
The way PRP injections are formulated can vary quite a bit, so it’s hard for experts to judge its effectiveness, or even if it works for everyone. Also, its use in treating osteoarthritis is fairly new, so it’s not yet part of standard treatment guidelines and may not be covered by insurance.
What is it?
Viscosupplementation, also known as hyaluronic acid injections, is a natural fluid that can help lubricate the joint and reduce friction. It can offer pain relief and mobility for several weeks or months.
Risks of side effects are low, so it’s a fairly safe injection. It can provide relief to people who haven’t had success with other injection options or who are looking to postpone surgery.
Viscosupplementation may work for other joints, but is only officially approved to treat knee osteoarthritis, so it may not be covered by insurance. Also, if it's used multiple times, it may get less effective over time as the joint further degenerates.
Combination of Injections
What is it?
If you have osteoarthritis in one or more joints, your doctor may recommend a combination of different types of injections to get the best results.
Varying the type of injections you receive can help prevent one particular type from losing effectiveness or triggering side effects from overuse. This also gives you more options if one particular type of injection doesn’t work.
You may have a harder time determining which injection is helping you the most, and eventually your joint may degenerate to the point that no injection can help.
Regardless of whether you try all these options or just one, injections should only be one part of your overall treatment plan that includes other medications, exercise, physical therapy, and possibly surgery.