Cortisone injections have gotten a bad rap in recent years as a treatment for arthritis pain, because steroids are known to damage cartilage and could potentially cause the joint to further deteriorate.
But a new study suggests that if used wisely, cortisone shots are as safe as another type of injection used to treat knee arthritis.
Occasional cortisone shots don’t appear to cause knees to deteriorate any faster than injections of hyaluronic acid, a substance injected to lubricate joints stiffened by arthritis, the researchers said.
“Knee replacement rates were, if anything, a little bit less in the group that got the cortisone injections,” senior researcher Dr. David Felson, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine says.
However, Felson added that the study only looked at people who’d gotten infrequent cortisone shots to their knee, and shouldn’t be interpreted as giving the green light to regular injections for years to come.
“What we know from the study that we can trust is that a few cortisone injections won’t really cause much trouble,” Felson shares. “It’s conceivable that repeated injections every three months for years won’t cause any trouble, but you can’t say that.”
Steroids are known to be toxic to cartilage, the connective tissue that keeps your bones from rubbing against each other, explains Dr. Melissa Leber, director of the Emergency Department’s Division of Sports Medicine in the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.
“If you use it enough, it will damage the cartilage,” Leber warns.
A 2019 study reported a threefold increased risk of knee arthritis progression in people who’d received repeated cortisone injections, compared with people who’d never gotten the shot, Felson and his colleagues said in background notes.