Shoulder pain caused by injury, arthritis, or an underlying disorder can sometimes be alleviated with the use of therapeutic joint injections. A joint injection in the shoulder is primarily designed to reduce inflammation. Given that pain is often the result of inflammation, reducing it tends to alleviate pain.
Therapeutic shoulder injections represent a safe outpatient procedure that can generally be completed in about 15 minutes. The amount of pain relief it offers varies from one patient to the next. Your doctor will discuss this with you prior to treatment.
Anti-inflammatory steroids are standard medication for this procedure. Note that these are corticosteroids rather than anabolic steroids. They can alleviate inflammation and prevent it from returning – at least for a period of time. This procedure works based on that principle.
Anesthetic injected along with the steroids provides temporary pain relief. Long-term pain relief is the result of the steroid medication managing inflammation. As long as the inflammation is kept in check, pain can be kept at a minimum.
Doctors first perform a thorough examination before determining the most likely place for injection. After that, the patient is made comfortable in preparation for the procedure. The chosen injection site is cleaned and sanitized, followed by the application of a local anesthetic to numb the skin and the underlying tissue.
After giving the anesthetic several minutes to work, the doctor will return to complete the procedure. He or she may choose to use a fluoroscope to guide proper needle placement. A fluoroscope is a type of x-ray device that requires contrast dye to work properly. As such, the first injection the patient receives will be the dye.
Once the doctor is confident of needle placement, a second injection takes place. It consists of anti-inflammatory medication and an anesthetic. The patient should feel immediate relief from the anesthetic. However, it can take 24 to 48 hours before the anti-inflammatory medication achieves the desired results.
Following the second injection, the needle is removed and the site bandaged. Very little recovery time is required. Patients return home immediately thereafter.
Any pain relief felt immediately following the injection is likely the result of the anesthetic. Thus, at least some pain is likely to return as the anesthetic’s effects wear off. Long-term pain relief associated with a reduction of inflammation is usually not experienced for at least a day or two following the procedure.
The amount of time pain relief lasts depends on how the patient’s body responds to treatment. Some people experience relief for a few days or weeks. Others feel better for months. Depending on how the patient responds, a doctor may recommend multiple injections to maximize pain relief. A recommendation to avoid strenuous movement for 24 hours might also be appropriate.
The basic nature of therapeutic shoulder injections means that complications from this procedure are rare. When they do occur, they are generally limited to bleeding and infection at the injection site. Note that infection is always a risk when needles are involved.
As for side effects, most patients report only a bit of soreness and inflammation at the injection site. Side effects tend to subside within 24 to 36 hours.
If you are suffering from arthritis or an injury to your shoulder, a therapeutic shoulder injection may be appropriate. Contact our office and make an appointment to see one of our pain specialists. If shoulder injections are not the right treatment for you, we can advise on another course of action.