Guest post by Rainah Jarae
Arthritis is one of the most common health conditions in the United States. According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, approximately 58.5 million Americans are currently diagnosed with the disorder. That makes up 23.7% of the United States adult population.
Because arthritis symptoms can make movement difficult, those afflicted are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and other conditions associated with sedentary lifestyles.
One popular treatment for arthritis is the use of steroids, specifically corticosteroids. Healthline explains that corticosteroids are synthetic chemicals designed to resemble the hormone cortisol. Because corticosteroids can reduce inflammation, they are often injected into inflamed joints to provide relief.
Although commonly used, corticosteroids are not necessarily the best treatment for arthritis. Corticosteroid injections are band-aid treatments that relieve arthritis symptoms without addressing the root issue. Continuous use of corticosteroids may in some cases worsen osteoarthritis by accelerating joint degeneration. Below, we will discuss the many disadvantages of administering corticosteroid injections and list more effective alternate arthritis solutions.
Steroids Do Not Address the Root of The Problem
Osteoarthritis occurs when overuse or injury causes joints and cartilage to wear down. As mentioned, corticosteroid injections aim to reduce inflammation. This temporarily alleviates arthritis-related pain. However, steroids do nothing to slow the wear and tear of joints.
In fact, steroids might actively harm osteoarthritis patients. Osteoarthritis pain acts as a warning against using worn-out joints. Without pain to remind them of their condition, osteoarthritis patients might continue to use their joints as though they were normal, which can add strain and cause further wear and tear.
Patients Need Ongoing Steroid Injections
Because corticosteroids don’t tackle the roots of arthritis, relief from injections is only temporary. Often, patients would need to visit their healthcare providers multiple times a year to receive treatment for their arthritis symptoms. In a world where telehealth has become the norm, forcing patients to make in-person visits for a treatment that only provides temporary relief is not ideal for patient satisfaction. According to a blog post from telemedicine network Wheel, today’s patients prefer not to visit medical facilities to receive care. 75% of patients now expect virtual care to be the standard, while 83% say they would prefer to use telemedicine even after COVID-19.
Steroids Cause Degeneration
As mentioned, steroids can worsen osteoarthritis by removing the pain that warns patients from overusing damaged joints. However, new studies show that corticosteroids themselves can cause complications that aggravate joint degeneration. Specifically, according to research led by Dr. Guermazi of the Boston University School Of Medicine, continuous use of corticosteroids for osteoarthritis can lead to stress fractures in the cartilage, loss of joint space, and rapid joint destruction and bone loss. These complications tend to accelerate the joint degeneration process. Patients that experience these complications are more likely to need total hip and knee replacements.
Stem Cell Therapy as A More Effective Treatment
The emerging innovation of stem cell therapy can provide more effective solutions to both types of arthritis. As we mentioned in Mesenchymal Stem Cells and Other Options for Managing Arthritis, stem cell therapy can help repair skeletal tissues, counteracting the degeneration caused by arthritis. Repair occurs when stem cells injected into damaged cartilage tissues transform into new cartilage tissues. Unlike steroid injections, stem cells provide a long-term solution and significantly improve a patient’s quality of life.
It’s not enough to simply treat symptoms. Providers need to go beyond pain relief and identify solutions for arthritis that can improve the patient’s condition in the long run. Rather than going for steroid treatments, providers will be better off administering stem cell therapy for arthritis.