Chronic pain can be debilitating and can make day-to-day life difficult. Hobbies may become impossible to pursue. Even activities of daily living can be extremely uncomfortable. Longstanding pain can lead to negative feelings such as anxiety, depression, and a sense of isolation. Therefore, treatment of chronic pain and inflammation is important, for both comfort and quality of life.
One of the most common treatments for pain and inflammation are cortisone injections, a treatment in which steroids are injected into the painful area, typically a joint. These shots treat inflammation and thereby ease pain and swelling caused by injury or illness. They are often used in treating arthritis, a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Corticosteroid drugs mimic the action of cortisol, a hormone that is naturally produced by the adrenal glands in the body. But what are the limitations of cortisone shots? Are they effective? And do they cause any side effects?
At Living Well Balanced Holistic & Integrative Health Care, we offer regenerative medicine treatments for a number of painful conditions, as an alternative to cortisone shots. The regenerative therapy involves an injection of amniotic tissues obtained from donors. These treatments provide pain relief by repairing diseased joints and regenerating damaged tissues.
What are the advantages of regenerative injections in comparison to steroid shots? Which treatment merely masks the symptoms or which therapy actually heals the underlying damage? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of regenerative treatments and cortisone injections.
Cortisone shots reduce inflammation, but is that a good thing?
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. Steroid injections treat the inflammation and reduce pain, redness, and swelling. So, this is a good thing, right? Well, the good news is that cortisone shots may provide relatively quick relief from pain symptoms. However, they do this by reducing inflammation, and inflammation is an indication that something is wrong. That something needs attention. That something deeper is going on in the body. The steroids mask the problem by treating the symptoms but doing nothing about the underlying cause. They do not speed up healing and they do not prevent problems from occurring again in the future. A common process is to combine the anti-inflammatory cortisone with a numbing medication (Novocain). While the pain relief may be immediate, the effects of the local anesthetic typically start to wear off within hours of the injection. Moreover, success is not guaranteed and many people only experience minimal to moderate pain relief.
Steroids degrade bone and cartilage
Cartilage is a firm, rubbery material that covers the ends of bones. It provides a smooth surface for joint motion. In people with arthritis, there is degeneration and breakdown of the cartilage, causing swelling, pain, redness, and problems with joint mobility.
Glucocorticoids (steroids) have a profound effect on bone and cartilage metabolism. They reduce the circulating levels of estrogen hormone and increase the level of parathyroid hormone. These hormonal changes prevent the formation of new bone and stimulate the reabsorption of existing bone, resulting in a net loss of bone over time. This manifests clinically as thinning of bone (decreased bone density), osteoporosis, and an increased risk of fractures. In addition, steroid drugs reduce the formation of chondrocytes (cartilage cells) and the synthesis of supporting matrix, which affects cartilage growth and repair.
So, in fact, what steroids do is cause further damage to the bones and cartilage in a painful joint. In the short-term symptoms of pain are relieved, but cortisone can lead to even more extensive damage in the long-term. Amniotic tissue allografts, on the other hand, boost the body’s ability to heal itself by providing it with much-needed growth factors, proteins, and supportive framework. This not only addresses the root cause of the pain, but also slows down the progression of the disease.
Cortisone shots can induce or worsen diabetes
Steroids affect glucose metabolism and can lead to abnormal blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Studies  show that blood glucose levels rise significantly following an intra-articular steroid shot (joint injection), and this increase in sugar levels can occur several days after the treatment. This means that diabetics who otherwise have good glucose control may suffer from acute hyperglycemia and the need to adjust oral medications or insulin.
In people who do not have diabetes, steroids can induce the condition. Individuals that are highly susceptible are those who are at high risk for type 2 diabetes or those who take the steroid medications for a long period of time. Although in some people the high blood sugar levels may return to normal after the steroid treatment is stopped, in others it can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes and the need for lifelong treatment.
The amniotic tissues used in regenerative injections do not put the recipient at any such risk of diabetes. These tissues are obtained from carefully-screened donors and processed in a state-of-the-art FDA-registered laboratory. In fact, amniotic tissues are being increasingly utilized to speed up healing in diabetic patients with chronic foot ulcers. This is because of their ability to reduce infection, improve healing, and stimulate regeneration of the ulcerated tissues.
Cortisone treatment for pain is temporary
Because of the concern that repeated cortisone shots can lead to deterioration of the joint cartilage, there is a limit on the number of times this treatment can be given to a person. In general, doctors do not advise injecting a joint with steroids more often than every six weeks and an individual cannot get the treatment more than 3-4 times a year. Too many cortisone injections compressed into a short period of time can lead to serious complications, such as avascular necrosis, in which there is lack of blood flow to the joint and collapse of the bone.
In some patients the steroid shot may not provide any relief at all. In people that do experience some improvement in pain, the relief does not last forever. Cortisone shots do not offer a long-term fix. And the short-term fix they do provide may, in fact, do more harm than good.
Regenerative Treatments for Chronic Arthritis Pain: Why They May be Your Best Choice
Amniotic tissue injections are associated with none of the potential complications of corticosteroids. They do not cause deterioration in cartilage. They do not lead to bone thinning. They do not induce or worsen diabetes. And they can be repeated as often as needed. Most importantly, they heal the damaged tissues and halt the progression of the disease, while also providing relief from pain and other symptoms of inflammation.
Do you suffer from chronic debilitating pain? Talk to our experienced therapists today to see if you could benefit from our regenerative medicine treatments.