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Let’s face it. No arthritis sufferer becomes overjoyed at the thought of getting steroid shots. Steroids are riddled with many well-known side effects, such as weight gain, changes in behavior or mood, headaches, and so on. While arthritis pain may be difficult to bear at times, none of us want the added discomfort of dealing with the side effects of steroids. Unfortunately, there are also many risks you assume associated with steroid shots for arthritis when taking steroids that aren’t immediately apparent, and these include damage to tendons, bones, and joints.

In fact, even taking steroids by mouth for a short period of time can wreak havoc on the body, increasing the risk of embolism, fractures, osteonecrosis, blood clots, and even sepsis. So it’s not difficult to understand why study after study is showing so much damage that can be done by injecting steroids directly into joints and surrounding tissues.

Continuing in our arthritis series for National Arthritis Month, let’s explore why steroid shots for arthritis are a bad combination.

Steroid Shots for Arthritis Pain Relief?

From the arthritis patient’s perspective, steroid shots are all about pain relief. Doctors push steroid shots for arthritis because they are a powerful anti-inflammatory, and by decreasing inflammation, steroids in the short term may relieve some arthritis pain. However, this isn’t always the case, and the more steroid shots a patient gets, the less pain relief most experience with each repeated injection. So that first steroid injection might make you think you’ve experienced a knee arthritis pain miracle, but what’s really happening behind the scenes?

That first shot may indeed temper inflammation, providing relief in pain symptoms. However, steroid shots, as studies have shown, are also killing off a percentage of the local healing stem cells. The second shot may still be providing inflammatory relief, but there are fewer stem cells to help repair, and now the second shot is killing off even more stem cells. So there is likely less pain relief as well. By that third steroid shot, there are very few stem cells remaining, and pain relief dwindles even more. In fact, the pain effect mentioned here is a best-case scenario as we’ve seen studies showing that steroid shots don’t actually relieve pain any better than a placebo (or a fake steroid shot).

But let’s not stop here. Let’s look even closer, specifically at when steroids are injected in and around joint structures.

Steroid Shots Are Toxic to Joint Cartilage

In one study the patients with knee arthritis who received steroid shots (when compared to a placebo knee arthritis group that did not receive steroids) had twice as much cartilage loss over a two year period, leading researchers to concluded that steroid shots were not an effective knee arthritis treatment.

In addition, we also know steroids weaken tendons, structures that are also part of the musculoskeletal system and that work alongside with bones and joints, and steroids can lead to osteonecrosis (translated as bone death).

Knowing cartilage loss is a defining factor for arthritis, why in the world would we want to inject an arthritic joint with a substance that is just going to eat away at the cartilage, therefore making arthritis worse? Taming inflammation with steroid shots at the cost of making arthritis worse isn’t helping anyone. So what can you do? Preferably before you get on the steroid merry-go-round, there are a few supplements you can try that have been shown to be very beneficial anti-inflammatories:

If the supplements aren’t effective, take a look back at our first post in our National Arthritis Month series to learn about orthobiologics that may be able to treat your arthritis.

While steroid shots for arthritis are routinely used by many doctors practicing because they are covered by insurance, steroid shots should never be a next step in arthritis treatment. Steroids destroy cartilage, kill tendon cells, are lethal to local stem cells in the joint and attack the bone, all structures that form or work with the joint and are imperative to a healthy musculoskeletal system and its repair.