What are steroid injections for the hands, wrists or elbows?

Steroids are man-made drugs that mimic a hormone called cortisol. Your body naturally produces this substance. Steroids can treat many inflammatory diseases and conditions. Doctors place these shots in small joints in your hands, wrists and elbows.

Steroid injections work by reducing inflammation, which causes swelling, redness and warmth. Injections let the doctor give you a high dose of treatment only to your injured hand or wrist. Besides containing steroids, these injections also have numbing ingredients. These help you feel immediate relief from pain in your hand, wrist or elbow.

What to expect from steroid injections in the hand, wrist or elbow

Steroid injections are procedures that many doctors administer right in their offices. You may need someone to drive you to and from the office on the day of your injection because your arm may be numb.

Your doctor may ask you to change into a gown if you're getting the injection in your elbow. You need to sit or lie in a position that lets your doctor insert the needle easily.
The doctor cleans the skin in the area where they're inserting the needle. They may also numb the area. Once the doctor inserts the needle, you might feel some pressure. Be sure to let them know if you feel a lot of pain. Once the needle is in the right place, the doctor releases the medication. The steroids reduce inflammation over time. The numbing agent may provide immediate pain relief. Relief lasts from several weeks to several months.

You might get more than one steroid shot on the same visit — for example, if you're experiencing inflammation in both elbows. Getting too many steroid shots in the same location may break down the cartilage, according to the Mayo Clinic. That's why doctors often limit steroid injections to at least six weeks apart. They may also only allow you to have three or four shots per year.

Common hand, wrist and elbow conditions requiring steroid injections

Doctors administer steroid conditions to treat:

  • Bursitis
  • Tendinitis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Arthritis caused by psoriasis
  • Other inflammatory diseases that cause swelling and pain