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Pay attention to the evidence: in the longer term, intraarticular corticosteroid injections offer only harm for knee osteoarthritis

Published:October 20, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.joca.2022.10.012

      Summary

      With respect to the long-term effects of intra-articular corticosteroid injections (IACIs) in knee osteoarthritis (OA), we are at the stage where it seems like the jury has returned a verdict but the judge hasn’t yet accepted it. Supporters of IACIs for knee OA, when reading about potential and actual harms and complete lack of any benefit in the medium- or long- term, are now clutching at straws that we shouldn’t even expect to observe any benefit in the longer term. Sadly, the same arguments that orthopaedic surgeons use to justify continuing with knee arthroscopy when there are only documented long-term harms and no documented long-term benefits, are being used by rheumatologists to justify continuing with IACIs for knee OA. The only actual reason to keep recommending both IACIs and knee arthroscopy (which sadly society guidelines still do) is the “status quo”, with the self-affirming argument that the quality of the RCTs published to date is not (yet) high enough to justify a change in expert opinion. There is a very strong argument against preserving the status quo for knee OA: outcomes everywhere keep getting worse. Knee replacements seem to be on a steady growth curve upwards in all countries and knee OA prevalence itself is also increasing. Something is badly wrong with the status quo for knee OA: if we were getting good results with medical treatment then fewer people would be needing knee replacements, not more. A very easy place to start questioning the status quo is to read a systematic review showing worse results than all comparators for IACIs followed by an editorial saying “let’s not give up on IACIs for knee OA just yet”. But as mentioned you could just as easily start with an orthopaedic journal editorial saying “let’s not give up on knee arthroscopy just yet” after a systematic review showing no benefit for this procedure either.

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