The study discussed below showed that PT (physical therapy) is just as effective as cortisol injections for pain caused by tendonitis, bursitis, or partial rotator cuff tears.
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To relieve nagging shoulder pain, you might want to skip the steroid injections and try physical therapy instead. A new study found that steroid injections are no more effective than PT for treating pain caused by tendonitis, bursitis, or partial rotator cuff tears.
Researchers gave shoulder pain sufferers either one shot of steroids or six PT sessions over three weeks and then monitored their progress throughout the next year. The two treatments worked equally well. On average, both groups saw 50 percent improvement in their pain levels and shoulder functionality. However, almost 40 percent of the injection group required additional shots to ease their pain, and 19 percent wound up needing physical therapy anyway. All of this, plus the fact that there are health risks involved with injections, leads the researchers to side with physical therapy.
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"Although injections can help decrease pain in the short term, they don't address the underlying issue," says lead researcher Daniel Rhon of Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. "Therefore, you might need more injections and more health care visits in the long run." But getting multiple steroids shots can be risky. "Steroids can weaken and damage tissue if they are used too often," Rhon says. "There's also a low risk of skin reactions and infection."
Physical therapy, on the other hand, does address the root cause of pain and is virtually risk-free, Rhon says. "Manual physical therapy, which includes appropriately prescribed exercises, can certainly help with [the cause of the pain] and should never aggravate symptoms," he says.
This isn't the first study to come down hard on injectable steroids. Last year, Johns Hopkins researchers found that they didn't work any better to ease back and neck pain than injections of a simple saline solution.
Bottom line? Every case of shoulder pain is different, so you need to thoroughly discuss your treatment options with your doctor. Together, you can weigh out the pros and cons of steroid injections and determine whether that, or perhaps just physical therapy, is the better route. Though Rhon adds, "I think it would rarely hurt to try physical therapy first."