Knee pain is common to people who lead active lifestyles. It can occur from running, working out or just through everyday wear and tear. It’s also difficult to treat, much like back pain. A new study published in JAMA warns that for people who experience chronic knee pain, steroid injections are absolutely not the way to go.
The study looked at people with symptomatic knee arthritis. Seventy arthritic people were given steroid injections once every twelve weeks for a period of two years. Seventy other participants were put on the same regimen, but the shots were a saline placebo.
The data is clear – steroid injections don’t help. The steroids showed no increased long-term benefit over the placebo and actually accelerated cartilage loss in the knees.
Cartilage loss was not attended by an increase in the severity of arthritis, but it’s definitely not a good thing. The study was relatively short-term, and over a longer period of time, the cartilage degeneration may likely be even worse.
Cartilage loss is linked to a higher rate of arthroplasty being administered. Arthroplasty is a surgery that improves the function of arthritic joints.
The justification for steroid injections is that they reduce inflammation. This was believed to have a long-term analgesic effect. It was also believed that the steroids would actually slow cartilage wear. The hypothesis was supported by prior studies. Those studies, however, were no placebo trials.
If you’re looking for a non-invasive way to protect your knees against wear and tear, try upping your fiber intake. Fiber-rich diets have been shown to help reduce knee pain in the long term.
Knee pain, like other chronic pains, can be very difficult to diagnose and treat. It can exist in the absence of any obvious signs of physical impairment or injury, and can linger for weeks, months and years.
Pain science has improved significantly in recent years. Our current understanding of chronic pain is that its severity is strongly correlated with neurobiology and lifestyle.
The two best things you can do for chronic pain are to get adequate sleep and exercise. Overworking a potentially damaged knee is not a good idea. Neither is remaining immobile. Resting the knee, or any area that suffers from chronic pain, will lead to an increase in symptoms, not a reduction.
And stay away from steroid injections, at least for knee pain. It is unclear of similar injections are more effective.