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Medically Reviewed April 2023, by Mr. Bryan Mayou (GMC: 1414396) - founder of the Cadogan Clinic and one of the world's leading plastic surgeons
Hydrocortisone injections, also known as steroid injections, are used to treat painful and sore joints by injecting the medication directly into the affected joint (intra-articular injection).
Hydrocortisone shots are used to treat joints which have been affected by injury or certain medical conditions such as arthritis. They are also used to treat painful tendons, bursitis and muscle pain in certain parts of the body.
Hydrocortisone injections help to relieve pain and make movement easier. The effects of these injections can last for several months and sometimes even up to a year.
Depending on which part of the body is being treated, you can have hydrocortisone shots up to four times a year.
Hydrocortisone injections are commonly used to treat the hand, wrist, shoulder, knee, elbow or hip. Here at the Cadogan Clinic, we administer these steroid shots for the hands. Hydrocortisone injections can also help to relieve the symptoms of common hand conditions such as trigger finger and carpal tunnel syndrome.
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Hydrocortisone injections can help to treat a number of common conditions which affect the hands, wrists and fingers. It is also an effective treatment to alleviate pain and inflammation of the joints caused by injury. Here are some of the common conditions hydrocortisone shots for hands can treat:
Joint pain following injury: There are several things that can cause injury leading to joint pain in the fingers, hand or wrists, such as playing sports, carrying out repetitive movements or falling over. Hydrocortisone injections can help with the pain and allow the affected joint to move more freely.
Arthritis: Hydrocortisone shots for hands can help to relieve the symptoms of arthritis. For osteoarthritis, the injection is most commonly administered to the joint at the base of the thumb and the joints closest to the fingernail. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, the knuckles are the most common joint to be treated with hydrocortisone injections. It is less common for the joint in the middle of the finger to be treated with hydrocortisone shots.
Painful tendons (tendonitis): A tendon injury can cause a tendon to become painful and inflamed. This is known as tendonitis. The condition can cause stiffness and affect the movement of the tendon.
Bursitis: Bursitis happens when the fluid-filled sacs (bursa) that cushion the joints become inflamed, causing painful, tender and sore joints. Although the condition can affect joints anywhere on the body, it most commonly affects the hips, elbows, shoulders or knees.
Trigger finger: Trigger finger is a condition that affects one or more of the flexor tendons in the hand that control finger movement. Trigger finger leaves the sufferer unable to straighten the affected finger(s) or thumb in the usual way. Trigger finger can affect your ability to carry out day-to-day tasks and some people find the condition painful. Steroid shots for the hands can help to reduce any swelling.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel running along the hands and wrists. It houses the tendons used to bend the fingers and thumb, alongside the median nerve. Sometimes this nerve becomes compressed, causing carpal tunnel syndrome. People with this condition may experience pain, tingling, numbness and a weakness in the hand, along with an impaired ability to grasp.
Hydrocortisone shots are safe for use on most adults, children and babies. However there are certain medical conditions which may mean that hydrocortisone injections may not be a suitable course of treatment. This is because the shots may make them worse and you may need extra monitoring.
You should tell your doctor before starting treatment if you are have or are experiencing any of the following:
Also make sure your doctor knows if you have diabetes (type 1 or 2), high blood pressure, osteoporosis, glaucoma or any unhealed wounds.
The hydrocortisone is injected straight into the part of the body that is swollen or painful, in this case the joints in the hands or wrists.
Hydrocortisone is an anti-inflammatory and the shots work by shutting down collagen production, therefore suppressing the inflammation, which can also help to alleviate pain in the affected area.
Hydrocortisone begins to work as soon as it is injected into the body. Some patients report immediate relief, but others may find it takes a few days or sometimes even longer for them to feel the effect of the treatment. If the inflammation is particularly bad or the condition which is being treated is particularly chronic, then there may be less of a benefit in terms of pain relief.
If the joint being treated is particularly painful, then a local anaesthetic may be used when the hydrocortisone shot is delivered.
The dose of hydrocortisone depends on the size of the affected joint. If you need a follow-up injection, the amount of hydrocortisone in the shot can be increased or decreased accordingly. The dosage depends on how well the previous injection worked, how long the benefits lasted and whether you experienced any side effects following your hydrocortisone shot for hands.
We have invited a selection of the country's very best consultants to join us at the Cadogan Clinic so that you can be sure that whatever the nature of your treatment, you will be seeing one of the top practitioners in the country.
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How long does it take for hydrocortisone injections to work?
Hydrocortisone injections for hands start working immediately. However, while some patients notice an improvement in their symptoms straight away, others find it takes a few days to feel the benefits.
If you have had a local anaesthetic with your hydrocortisone shot, then any pain should subside within a few minutes. However once the anaesthetic has worn off, you may experience some discomfort or find that the pain in the joint was worse than it was before the injection. Rest the affected hand and use an ice pack to reduce swelling and bruising and this should settle down in a day or two. You may take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, if needed. However it is worth remembering that most people do not experience any side effects after a hydrocortisone shot.
When should you not have a hydrocortisone injection?
If you have a blood clotting disorder, such as haemophilia, or if you are taking any medicine which thins your blood, such as warfarin, then hydrocortisone shots should only be used with great caution. This is because there is a greater risk of bleeding into the joint. Before you have your injection, you will need to undergo tests to see how well your blood clots.
If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes then you should take extra care as hydrocortisone injections can affect your blood sugar control. You should pay close attention to your blood sugar levels in the fortnight following your shot and seek advice if your levels do not settle after this two week period.
If you’re also taking other steroid medicines or tablets for HIV or any fungal infections, you may get underactive adrenal glands as a side effect of hydrocortisone shots. You may need to carry a steroid card.
Can hydrocortisone injections cause an allergic reaction?
It is extremely rare to have an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a hydrocortisone shot. But anaphylaxis can be life-threatening, so if you experience any of the following symptoms, you must seek emergency medical help straight away: skin rash, difficulty breathing, wheezing, tightness in the chest or throat, swelling of the lips, face, mouth, throat or tongue.
We would like to reiterate that an allergic reaction to hydrocortisone injections is highly unlikely. If you have any concerns about this or any other aspects of hydrocortisone injections then please speak to our team who will help to set your mind at rest.
How much do hydrocortisone injections cost?
The price of hydrocortisone injections UK vary and range from £250 up to the £1,000 mark. The final cost of your hydrocortisone shot treatment depends on whereabouts on the body is being treated and how many injections are required. The cost also depends on the dosage required.
If you choose the Cadogan Clinic for your hydrocortisone injection in London, you will get:
Are hydrocortisone injections painful?
Hydrocortisone injections are not painful, although some people may find them uncomfortable.
Very occasionally a person may experience pain in the joint into which the injection is delivered, but this resolves itself in one to two days.
Sometimes you may be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area before the hydrocortisone shot is administered. The effects of the anaesthetic will wear off within a couple of hours. You should ask a friend or relative to drive you home from your appointment.
If you have any concerns, please speak to your consultant before treatment, who will be happy to set your mind at rest.
Do I need to carry a steroid card?
If you are having hydrocortisone injections for three weeks or more, or you have been prescribed a high dosage, then you will need to have a blue steroid treatment card.
The card gives you information on how to reduce the risk of side effects as well as giving important information to healthcare professionals. This card informs any healthcare professionals that you come into contact with that you are on steroid treatment which must not be stopped suddenly. If you need any medical or dental treatment then you must show this card to your GP or dentist. You should always carry this card with you in case you ever need any emergency medical assistance.
Can lifestyle changes help painful joints?
There are some lifestyle changes you could make which may help to ease painful or swollen joints.
Exercises to increase muscle strength around the affected joint or joints will help, but it will also be beneficial to exercise regularly to improve your overall fitness.
You may find hot or cold compresses or treatments help to soothe the affected joint. Sometimes people say that electrotherapy, such as a TENS machine, can also help to provide relief. A walking stick or frame may be useful if painful or swollen joints are affecting the way you walk.
Ultimately hydrocortisone injections are the quickest, most effective and long-lasting way to ease the discomfort associated with swollen or painful joints.
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The most common side effects from hydrocortisone injections is pain or swelling in the joint where the injection was given. This is temporary and usually resolves in one to two days. There may also be some mild bruising at the injection site.
As hydrocortisone shots are injected straight into the joint, the medicine does not travel around your body. However sometimes hydrocortisone may get into your blood and as a result there is a very slim chance you may experience a serious side effect. Potential side effects include: depression, mood changes, infection, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), eyesight changes, diabetes or complications of diabetes, and Cushing’s syndrome. Some of these side effects may happen after a few days while others may not present until months after treatment. These are all very rare side effects.
It is extremely rare to have an allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to a hydrocortisone shot.
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