Steroid injections for knee arthritis

Dr Mark Porter / 24 February 2017

Dr Porter advises a busy reader who wants to delay a knee operation.



Q: I have had arthritis in my left knee for the last five years and my surgeon is now advising that I have the joint resurfaced.  I have a busy year ahead and would like to delay the operation as long as possible.  Is it safe to have repeated steroid injections – they seem to be the only thing that provides relief?

A: Steroid (“cortisone”) injections can provide effective relief in osteoarthritis and are most commonly used to treat disease in the knee and thumb.  They work well in around three-quarters of people but, while they can last up to two months or more, the pain and stiffness often returns after 2 – 4 weeks.  And herein lies the problem – how often can you repeat the injections?

Most specialists I speak to think they should be limited to no more frequently than once every 3 – 4 months which won’t be enough to provide ongoing relief for most people.  That said, they can be combined with anti-inflammatory tablets and physiotherapy.  The latter is important. 

Physiotherapists can help people with bad arthritis of the knees in a number of ways – from taping the knee-cap or advising on ways of altering a problem gait (both of which can ease discomfort in some people), through to recommending exercises to maintain the strength of the muscles surrounding the knee (vital in everyone).

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