Ah, joints – they serve us dutifully, performing millions of actions over the years, until one day, one or more of them begin to hurt. The majority of the time the pain isn’t caused by anything serious, just simple wear and tear on the ligaments, bursae or tendons surrounding the joint, and/or inflammation caused by arthritis and a loss of cartilage, leaving a “bone on bone” feeling. Common sites for joint pain are knees, shoulders and hips, but other joints are also susceptible to aching, grinding and stiffness. Pain medication may help, but few of us want to take prescription pain medication for extended periods, especially since people may develop a tolerance to them, making them less effective – and potentially dangerous.
A highly effective and safe alternative or supplement to medication for joint pain is joint injection. Treatment using joint injection is quick and simple. Your RAO radiologist will first numb the skin around the area with a topical anesthetic, and then inject a specialized medication combination directly into the affected joint space. The injection includes a corticosteroid, which acts as an anti-inflammatory to calm irritated nerves and enhance the feeling of fluidity and cushion within the joint, mixed with an anesthetic to help relieve pain. Because exactness is important for optimal relief, your radiologist will utilize x-ray guidance, often accompanied by a contrast agent, to pinpoint the area requiring injection, so that the medication will be delivered to the precise area within the joint.
Joint injection may also be used to diagnose the cause of pain, which may not originate within the joint itself, but from a different area and travel to the joint. Using joint injection, your radiologist can determine if the joint is indeed the source of pain, or if it is caused by something else, so that proper treatment can be employed.
Joint injection is a safe outpatient procedure, taking only about 30 minutes from start to finish. Relief provided by the local anesthetic is immediate but temporary, because the anesthetic wears off within hours. True relief is provided by the corticosteroid, which often takes a few days to “kick in” and provide lasting benefit. If after you get home the pain returns for a few days, there’s no need for alarm. Relax and take it easy the day of the procedure, and feel free to return to your usual activities the next day. After a few days, most patients report feeling marked relief from pain and enhanced mobility that lasts for several months, or even longer in some cases. Most patients who get relief from joint injection can have repeat treatments as needed.
If you have chronic joint pain, talk to your clinician about whether a joint injection might be right for you. It might be the shot in the arm (or knee) you need to feel like yourself again.
RAO performs joint pain injections at their TimberRidge and Medical Imaging Center offices.