Our joints carry us seamlessly through the day. Whether we are lifting groceries from the car, climbing ladders, or hugging our children close, the joints in our body make all movement possible. Until they don’t. If joint pain is making simple tasks painful, a joint injection can help. At The Pain Experts of Arizona, we offer innovative joint injections as a way to manage pain without more invasive surgery. If you’re ready to get back to pain-free living, learn more about these procedures in the following video and article, or schedule your consultation with our team.
Joint injections treat a wide variety of conditions that come down to three essential symptoms: pain, inflammation, and limited range of motion in the joints.
We’ll focus primarily on joint injections for shoulders, knees, hips, and the back, but these injections can be done elsewhere throughout the body. Regardless of the condition treated, joint injections are one way to treat chronic pain that is not responsive to other treatments.
Shoulder joint injections
When we talk about the shoulder joint, we are actually referring to four separate joints that form what is known as the shoulder girdle. This rigid structure in the upper back helps to protect your most sensitive internal organs while still allowing free movement of the arms.
Injections can help if you’re experiencing pain in the shoulders. Osteoarthritis may be the most common condition treated with shoulder joint injections. Other conditions include:
Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)
Rotator cuff tendinosis
Shoulder joint injections may also help relieve some kinds of neck pain that is referred from the shoulder joint to other parts of the neck.
Knee joint injections
Three bones—the femur, tibia, and patella—are connected by an intricate network of ligaments and tendons in the knee. Cartilage lines the knee, and the calf and thigh muscles offer support and stability.
All this work and movement in the joint lead to one of the most common causes of knee pain: arthritis. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, all of which cause pain and inflammation in the knee. A knee joint injection can help reduce swelling caused by arthritis. It can also ease the pain and inflammation of bursitis, another inflammatory condition.
Hip joint injections
Your hip joint is the largest weight-bearing joint in the body. Because we ask so much of it, many conditions treated with hip joint injections are related to wear and tear on the joint.
Each of these hip conditions can lead to pain and inflammation. Left untreated, they can cause more serious damage to the hip.
We tend to forget that our spine is made up of a series of joints, each connecting the vertebrae and allowing for stability as we move and twist. There are many different conditions that can cause pain in the joints of the back, and joint injections can help.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about the potential for a joint injection to ease your pain, though, as this approach may not work for every patient. Used conservatively in conjunction with other therapies such as strengthening exercises, joint injection benefits are real and worth investigating.
The joint injection procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, right in your doctor’s office.
Depending on the area to be injected, you may not have to change into a gown for the joint injection. You will position yourself on the exam table with the joint to be injected easily accessible (i.e., on your side for a hip injection).
Your doctor cleans and sterilizes the injection site, then administers a local anesthetic to keep you comfortable during the procedure.
Many doctors use fluoroscopy (X-ray) to guide their injection. The use of an X-ray helps your doctor to more precisely pinpoint the injection site. This minimizes the chance of joint injection risks. A contrast dye is injected to further confirm the needle’s position.
Once the area to be injected is identified, your doctor will inject the medication. This might consist of a corticosteroid, hyaluronic acid, or other appropriate pain medication. The needle is slowly removed, and the injection site is covered with a small bandage.
It’s important to note that you may experience an increase in pain after the injection before you find relief. This is normal. Many patients do not get the full joint injection benefits for ten days to two weeks after their injection. Patients who find pain relief with joint injections can generally have up to four injections per year.
Joint injection recovery is usually quick and easy. Take the day of your joint injection procedure off. Don’t return to vigorous exercise or activity. Plan on having a friend or family member drive you home, too.
You may experience soreness at the injection site. This is normal and can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication and a small ice pack, applied for 20 minutes at a time as needed.
During your recovery, also:
Avoid excessive heat for three days following your injection
Showering is fine, but skip baths for three days
Keep the small bandage dry and clean; replace it if it gets wet
Generally, remove the bandage after 48 hours
Always follow any recovery instructions from your doctor.
As with all medical procedures, there is a risk of joint injection side effects. These can include:
Pain and swelling at the injection site
Infection (at the injection site or in the joint)
Temporary weight gain
Temporary increase in blood sugar
Due to the potential increase in blood sugar, patients with diabetes may not be good candidates for joint injections. People who are pregnant, taking blood thinners, or who have a systemic infection should not receive joint injections.
Less common but more serious joint injection risks include the following:
Allergic reaction to injected medication
Accelerated progression of thinning bones
Tendon weakening or rupture
Many of these risks can be avoided by limiting the number of injections you receive and by using X-ray guidance to ensure proper placement. Talk to your doctor about potential joint injection benefits and risks.