Steroid jabs used to treat joint pain could be doing more harm than good 

After she wrenched her right shoulder when she slipped cleaning her shower, Abigail Drummond was in pretty bad pain.

‘It was excruciating,’ recalls the 60-year-old former model. An X-ray found no broken bones, but when the pain persisted, she decided to use her private healthcare to have a more detailed MRI scan.

This showed two tendons in her shoulder were badly torn and another severely damaged. All the doctor offered was a steroid injection — a treatment used to reduce inflammation.

Yet now, six weeks after the accident, not only has the injection provided little relief, but Abigail has been told that she actually needs surgery — yet she has to wait because of the steroid jab. The injection may also have reduced the chance of the operation being successful, as well as increasing the risk of her developing an infection.

Abigail Drummond said she wrenched her right shoulder when she slipped cleaning her shower, tearing two tendons in her shoulder (stock image)

Abigail Drummond said she wrenched her right shoulder when she slipped cleaning her shower, tearing two tendons in her shoulder (stock image)

‘To say I was appalled would be an absolute understatement,’ says Abigail from East London. ‘My shoulder movement is so restricted I can’t hold up my arm or even drive. Now I’m in a kind of limbo.’

Steroid injections are commonly given for chronic painful shoulders as well as other aches and pains such as arthritic knees.

The injections contain a corticosteroid, which decreases pain by reducing inflammation. While they do work for many, there is good evidence to show that in some circumstances they can cause more harm than good.

Just this month, a study published in Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery found that patients who received injections prior to surgical repairs to the rotator cuff — a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder — were more likely to undergo revision surgery (repeat surgery to repair an earlier operation).

This followed research presented at a meeting of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine in New Orleans last year that revealed those who have injections less than six months before a repair to the rotator cuff may have increased risk of revision surgery.

‘The problem with steroid injections is that they inhibit the cells that can help repair damaged tissue and therefore may weaken tendons and muscles,’ says Tony Kochhar, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, and a professor of sports science at the University of Greenwich. ‘All of which can impede healing and affect success rates of surgical repair. That’s why they shouldn’t be administered without thinking

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