Corticosteroids: Review of the History, the Effectiveness, and Adverse Effects in the Treatment of Joint Pain

Background: Corticosteroids have been used for the past 70 years in the treatment of various musculoskeletal conditions. This includes its use for joint pain such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Objectives: A narrative review of the literature from its initial discovery to the present day to summarize the research of corticosteroids for joint pain to determine the safety and effectiveness of this commonly used and prescribed medication.

Methods: A review of the literature was performed regarding the effectiveness and side effects of corticosteroids for joint and osteoarthritis conditions.

Results: The current evidence would suggest that the use of corticosteroids provides moderate short-term benefit for reducing pain and improving functioning. These benefits generally last several weeks without long-term effectiveness. In addition to its limited short-term effectiveness, there are multiple potential adverse effects including toxicity to articular cartilage and numerous systemic side effects such as increases in blood glucose levels, a reduction in immune function, and an increased risk of infections.

Limitations: English only articles were reviewed. No attempt was made to perform a formal statistical or meta-analysis.

Conclusions: The current evidence would suggest that the use of corticosteroids provides moderate evidence for short-term pain reduction and improvement in function. There are multiple potential adverse effects, such as toxic damage to articular cartilage, as well as numerous systemic side effects, including a reduction in immune function and an increased risk of infection, of which physicians need to be aware.

Keywords: adverse effects; arthritis; corticosteroids; immune function; infections; joint; pain; Cortisone.