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Are Knee Injections for Osteoarthritis Safe? New Study Offers Insight

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Knee osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the cartilage in the knee joint wears down, leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling. While there is no cure for osteoarthritis, there are various treatments available to manage symptoms and improve joint function. One such treatment is joint injections, which involve injecting a medication directly into the knee joint to reduce inflammation and pain.

However, there has been ongoing debate among medical professionals and patients about the potential long-term risks associated with regular knee injections, particularly with steroids. Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs that can provide fast and effective pain relief, but they can also have side effects when used in large doses or over extended periods.

To shed light on this issue, researchers conducted a study to examine the long-term safety of steroid and hyaluronic acid knee injections for people with knee arthritis. The study included 564 patients with knee osteoarthritis, ages 40 to 75, who were followed for five years. Of these, 150 patients received steroid or hyaluronic acid injections an average of twice over five years, while the rest had no injections.

At the end of the follow-up period, the researchers found that patients who received infrequent steroid or hyaluronic acid injections had a similar risk for knee replacement compared with untreated patients. This suggests that occasional steroid injections may not have any long-term harmful effects on knee joint health or function.

However, the study does not provide a definitive answer to all safety concerns related to knee injections. For example, it did not examine the potential risks of frequent or high-dose steroid injections or the use of other types of injections, such as platelet-rich plasma or stem cells. Furthermore, the study did not address the effectiveness of injections in relieving pain and improving function in people with knee osteoarthritis.

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Despite these limitations, the study offers some reassurance to people with knee osteoarthritis who have occasional flare-ups and rely on joint injections for pain relief. The findings suggest that infrequent steroid or hyaluronic acid injections may provide temporary relief without increasing the risk of knee replacement in the long term.

It is important to note, however, that knee injections are not suitable for everyone with osteoarthritis. They may not be effective or safe for people with certain medical conditions or those taking certain medications. Moreover, injections should always be administered by a qualified healthcare professional using sterile techniques to reduce the risk of infection or other complications.

The latest research suggests that infrequent steroid or hyaluronic acid injections may pose minimal long-term risk for people with knee osteoarthritis. However, more studies are needed to fully understand the safety and effectiveness of knee injections and to identify the most appropriate candidates for this treatment. If you have knee osteoarthritis

it is important to talk to your doctor about your treatment options, including joint injections. Your doctor can help you weigh the benefits and risks of this treatment and determine whether it is right for you.

In addition to joint injections, there are other treatments available for knee osteoarthritis. These may include medications, physical therapy, exercise, weight loss, and assistive devices such as braces or canes. Your doctor may recommend a combination of these treatments to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle if you have knee osteoarthritis. This includes eating a balanced diet, staying physically active, getting enough rest, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. These lifestyle changes can help reduce inflammation and pain in your knee joint and improve your overall health and well-being.

In summary, knee osteoarthritis injections may not cause long-term damage if done infrequently, according to a recent study. This provides reassurance to people with knee osteoarthritis who rely on joint injections for temporary pain relief. However, more research is needed to fully understand the safety and effectiveness of knee injections, and to identify the most appropriate candidates for this treatment. If you have knee osteoarthritis, talk to your doctor about your treatment options and lifestyle changes that can help improve your symptoms and quality of life.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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