Corticosteroids are medications used to reduce swelling and pain. Doctors sometimes inject them directly into the affected joint to treat pain from osteoarthritis. Although pill forms are available, their long-term side effects decrease their usefulness.

Corticosteroid injections are usually limited to 3 or 4 in the same joint per year. Repeated doses can permanently damage cartilage. Doctors typically only use corticosteroid injections for people who do not respond to or cannot tolerate other therapies.

How Injectable Corticosteroids Work

Corticosteroids affect your immune system. Normally, an injury causes inflammation. Blood vessels swell and irritants are released. Infection-fighting white blood cells then enter the injured area, adding to the irritation and swelling. Corticosteroids change the activity of the white blood cells so they are less able to move towards inflamed areas.

Possible Side Effects of Injectable Corticosteroids

Injectable corticosteroids can cause a wide range of side effects due to their effect on the immune system. Long-term use of corticosteroids can lead to brittle and fractured bones. Frequent injections can destroy joint cartilage. You should avoid exercise after an injection, because it can make side effects worse.

Bothersome Side Effects

Let your doctor know if you have any of these side effects. These are most often seen with long-term usage.

  • acne
  • a red, round face, called Cushing's syndrome
  • bloating
  • increased blood glucose levels in people with diabetes
  • increased risk of infection
  • high blood pressure
  • increased eye pressure, called glaucoma
  • mood changes
  • muscle weakness
  • slow healing of wounds
  • weight gain
Possible Drug Interactions with Injectable Corticosteroids

To help you avoid unnecessary side effects, don't take these with any other medications until you talk with your doctor. Tell your doctor about all other drugs you are taking - it's even a good idea to let your doctor see your other prescription containers. Not all drugs in the categories listed below will react with injectable corticosteroids - your doctor is the best judge. Always check with your doctor to be sure.

Drugs to Avoid With Injectable Corticosteroids
  • antibiotics
  • blood thinners
  • decongestants that contain the active ingredient ephedrine
  • heart medications
  • hormones, such as oral contraceptives
  • immunosuppressants, such as cyclosporine
  • NSAIDs
  • seizure medications
  • tuberculosis medications