High-dose steroid injections are a common treatment option for people living with chronic pain due to an orthopedic injury that has not yet advanced enough to require surgery. These injections have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and can therefore cause a lessening of symptoms for weeks or even months. These injections, however, do also have some significant downsides. At best, steroid injections offer temporary relief of a symptom, but they do nothing to treat the cause of your pain. Once the effect of the steroid wears off, your pain will be right back where it started–or even worse.
Inflammation is a natural part of your body’s immune response. By suppressing this response, steroid injections actually stand in the way of your body’s natural healing efforts. Beyond even this effect, steroid injections are actually destructive to stem cells and orthopedic tissues like cartilage and tendons in your body. Though many of the steroids used are found naturally in our bodies, these injections come in much higher concentrations than are produced naturally. This high level kills surrounding cells and leaves the tissue weaker than it was prior to the injection. This tissue death is the reason most orthopedic surgeons won’t perform steroid injections more than a few times per year.
In addition to suppressing your body’s natural healing mechanisms and killing of tissues, high-dose steroid injections have other side effects. Due to the unnaturally high steroid volume, they can change your body’s normal balance and control of cortisol, a stress-regulating hormone. They also lead to problems with blood sugar in diabetics and in extreme cases, they can cause death of bone tissue (avascular necrosis). While these injections can temporarily ease symptoms, most evidence suggests that their effect over time is worse than doing nothing.