Steroid injection has been around since the early 1950s, and it remains a primary treatment for general practitioners all the way to orthopedic surgeons. Why? First of all, it offers the hope of quick relief. Second, it’s a Big Fat Cash Cow. Let’s do the math. Say you have sciatica, and you go to see Dr. Prick Butt and he says, “Not much I can do for you other than give you a steroid injection. Of course, it may take up to three of these to achieve the best results.” Three injections @ $150 per injection = $450. Now, taking into account that the average orthopedist probably sees at least 20 patients a day and works 180 days a year, that comes to 3,600 patients. If 20 percent of those patients get three steroid injections, that’s an annual income of $324,000 ($450 X 750 patients). That’s for 10 minutes of work per patient. And you wonder why things haven’t changed in more than 50 years.
As with any medication, there are possible side effects or risks involved. Common risks from steroid injections include pain at the injection site, bruising due to broken blood vessels, skin discolouration and aggravation of inflammation. Rarer risks include allergic reactions, infection, tendon rupture and serious injury to bones called necrosis. Long term side effects (depending on frequency and dose) include thinning of skin, easy bruising, weight gain, puffiness in the face, higher blood pressure, cataract formation, and osteoporosis (reduced bone density). Steroid injections may be given every 3-4 months but frequent injections may lead to tissue weakening at the injection site and is not recommended. Side effects do not happen in everyone and vary from person to person.