shoulder steroid injections

Steroid injections and your shoulder

Before undergoing shoulder surgery, many patients are recommended steroid injections in a bid to prevent the need for surgery. While they can prove to be effective at resolving mild injuries, sometimes surgery is required to fix more severe shoulder issues.

Here, we’ll look at why timing is everything when undergoing steroid injections and everything you need to know to lower the risks.

What are shoulder steroid injections?

Steroid injections, or cortisone shots, are given to patients in an attempt to reduce inflammation and minimise pain. They tend to include a local anaesthetic, along with corticosteroid medication.

While they can be very effective, they do pose some risks and complications. Joint infections (1 in 10,000), a temporary flare-up of inflammation and pain within the joint (1:20), and nerve damage (very rare) are all potential side effects of these injections. For this reason, the number of injections patients can have within one year are usually restricted. Additionally, numerous injections are thought to potentially weaken the tendon.

Are steroid injections harmful before shoulder surgery?

There has been a number of negative news stories in the media recently, highlighting the dangers of having steroid injections prior to shoulder surgery. However, it is important patients realise the truth behind the news coverage as it isn’t always 100% accurate.

In light of the case of a patient who went to the doctor complaining of shoulder pain, only to be given steroid injections which made the problem worse, there are a few important factors to point out. The first was the patient received the steroid injection by their GP, not a shoulder specialist. If the patient were to have visited a shoulder specialist, investigations would have been provided to determine the cause of the pain and to establish the best course of treatment.

Shoulder specialists have a lot more extensive training into both diagnosing shoulder injuries and recognising the indications for steroid injections. So, the risks of anything going wrong are dramatically reduced. They are also able to determine the best form of treatment, eliminating unnecessary injections.

If steroid injections are required before surgery, there is a set period of time you should wait before having the surgery once the injection has been administered.

How long should you wait before undergoing shoulder surgery?

In order to reduce the risks, patients are advised to wait at least one month after having a steroid injection, before undergoing surgery. However, this varies dependent on the nature of the surgery. In the case of a shoulder replacement, this would be three months, whilst for arthroscopic procedures, this is usually four weeks but intervention dependent.

A recent study carried out by the Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago, revealed that previous steroid injections do not increase the risks of shoulder surgery provided the injection was administered more than a month beforehand.

If you are concerned about having shoulder surgery after a steroid injection, it’s a good idea to talk to a shoulder specialist. They will be able to help you identify whether a steroid injection is needed, or whether another alternative treatment would be most effective. It is also really important to ensure you’re choosing an experienced specialist when having steroid injections administered.