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Steroid injections for knee arthritis

Dr Mark Porter / 24 February 2017

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

knee arthritis
Physiotherapists can help people with bad arthritis of the knees in a number of ways.

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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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.