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Joint injections

Joint injections are shots into a joint, such as the knee. They may be used to put in medicines, such as pain relievers.

A corticosteroid, or steroid, shot is used to reduce inflammation in tendons or joints. It is often used to treat problems such as arthritis, tendinitis, and bursitis.

Steroids can be injected directly into a painful, inflamed joint. They can also help reduce inflammation of a bursa. A bursa is a sac of fluid. It cushions and lubricates areas where tendons, ligaments, skin, muscles, or bones rub against each other.

A steroid shot can sometimes help with short-term pain relief when other treatments haven’t worked. If steroid shots help, pain may improve for weeks or months.

  • How it's done

    How are joint injections done?

    First, the area over the joint will be cleaned. Your doctor may then use a tiny needle to numb the skin in the area where you will get the joint injection.

    If a tiny needle is used to numb the area, your doctor will use another needle to inject the medicine. Your doctor may use a pain reliever, a steroid, or both. You may feel some pressure or discomfort.

    Your doctor may put ice on the area before you go home.

    How long do joint injections take?

    The procedure takes 10 to 30 minutes. But the injection itself usually takes only a few minutes.

  • After care

    What can you expect as you recover from a joint injection?

    You will probably go home soon after your shot. You may have numbness around the joint for a few hours.

    If your shot included both a pain reliever and a steroid, then the pain will probably go away right away. But it might come back after a few hours. This might happen if the pain reliever wears off and the steroid hasn't started to work yet. Steroids don't always work. But when they do, the pain relief can last for several days to a few months or longer.

    Your doctor may tell you to use ice on the area. You can also use ice if the pain comes back. Put ice or a cold pack on your joint for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.

    Follow your doctor's instructions carefully.

    How can you care for yourself at home after a joint injection?

    • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
    • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Avoid strenuous activities for several days. In particular, avoid ones that put stress on the area where you got the shot.
    • If you have dressings over the area, keep them clean and dry. You may remove them when your doctor tells you to.