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The Deterioration of Articular Cartilage in Osteoarthritis by Corticosteroid Injections

Ross Hauser, MD. The deterioration of articular cartilage in osteoarthritis by corticosteroid injections. Journal of Prolotherapy. 2009;1(2):107-123.


Abstract

The hallmark feature of osteoarthritis is the breakdown in the articular cartilage of joints such as the knee and hip. Both animal and human research has consistently shown that corticosteroid injections into normal and degenerated knees accelerate the arthritic process. A summary of the effects of the intraarticular corticosteroids on articular cartilage includes: a decrease of protein and matrix synthesis, matrix hyaline appearance becomes fibrotic, clumping of collagen, alteration in chondrocyte cell shape, chondrocyte cell proliferation inhibited, chondrocyte cytoxicity enhanced, loss of chondrocytes, surface deterioration including edema, pitting, shredding, ulceration and erosions, inhibition of articular cartilage metabolism, articular cartilage necrosis, thinning of articular cartilage, decrease in cartilage growth and repair, formation of articular cartilage cysts, and ultimately articular cartilage destruction.

When researchers microscopically and radiologically examine human joints after corticosteroid injections, the same results are found in humans as in animals. Intraarticular corticosteroid injections accelerate the osteoarthritic degenerative process. Because of this possibility, organizations such as the American College of Rheumatology acknowledge, “It is generally recommended, although not well supported by published data, that injection of corticosteroids in a given joint not be performed more than three to four times in a given year because of concern about the possible development of progressive cartilage damage through repeated injection in the weight-bearing joints.” It is this author’s opinion that there is no doubt that the rise of osteoarthritis, as well as the number of hip and knee replacements, is a direct result of the injection of corticosteroids into these joints.

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