Does an intra-articular corticosteroid injection lead to systemic steroid absorption? Yes.
There is ample evidence that intra-articular injections of corticosteroids lead to numerous systemic effects. Most common steroids injectates can result in adrenal suppression for over a month. Accordingly, should a patient contract COVID-19 in the month following the injection, the steroid may continue to have a systemic effect.
The evidence for the use of corticosteroids in COVID-19 illness is limited and mixed. At the time of this publication, many societies in Canada and globally, including WHO, recommend against the routine use of steroids for the treatment of viral pneumonias.
The translation of this recommendation to intra-articular injections remains ambiguous. Whether or not the systemic effect of an intra-articular cortisone injection is sufficient to have an impact on the course of illness is completely unclear. Yet, given the uncertainty, prudence would suggest against their use.
If still unconvinced, another consideration could be the impact on the care your patient would receive should he/she suffer from severe illness. Currently, many novel treatment modalities are limited to clinical trials, and a recent corticosteroid injection may impact eligibility for enrolment.
What can you do instead?
Go back to basics! An evidence-based physical therapy program for arthritis is a great place to start, even during a pandemic. While many GLA:D programs are closed, information about their exercises can be found at: https://gladcanada.ca/index.php/what-is-glad-canada-2/. Many insurance providers are also moving to cover virtual visits with physiotherapists, allowing patients to receive customized treatment programs.
Alternative pain management modalities include ice, heat, self-massage, and acetaminophen. Of course, reminding patients that while a pandemic does not make it easier, weight management is the cornerstone of happy joints and a healthy body. A reminder that every kilogram of weight loss results in 4 kg off their knee never hurts!
Nitai Gelber, MD, CFPC
PGY-3 Sport and Exercise Medicine, University of Ottawa
Advisor: Dr. Taryn Taylor, BKIN, MSc, MD, CCFP (SEM), Dip Sport Med
BCCDC. “Unproven Therapies for COVID-19.” 30 Mar. 2020, http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-Professionals-Site/Documents/Guidelines_Unproven_Therapies_COVID-19.pdf.
Fascia, Daniel, et al. “The Safety of Corticosteroid Injections during the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.” AMSIG, 30 Mar. 2020, http://www.amsig.org/recommendations-from-bssr-the-safety-of-corticosteroid-injections-during-the-covid-19-global-pandemic/.
Messier, Stephen P., et al. “Weight Loss Reduces Knee-Joint Loads in Overweight and Obese Older Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis.” Arthritis & Rheumatism, vol. 52, no. 7, 2005, pp. 2026–2032., doi:10.1002/art.21139.
Russell, Beth, et al. “COVID-19 and Treatment with NSAIDs and Corticosteroids: Should We Be Limiting Their Use in the Clinical Setting?” Ecancermedicalscience, vol. 14, 2020, doi:10.3332/ecancer.2020.1023.
WHO. “Clinical Management of Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) When COVID-19 Disease Is Suspected.” 13 Mar. 2020, http://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/clinical-management-of-novel-cov.pdf.