Doctors can inject medications directly into a person’s joints to reduce pain and swelling, and increase range of motion. There are various types of injections, but only some are covered by medical insurance.

According to the Arthritis Foundation (AF), doctors may recommend joint injections for people experiencing acute pain and inflammation. Many types of arthritis cause these symptoms, but osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common.

There are different types of injections, but doctors often recommend corticosteroid injections as these work quickly to relieve symptoms.

This article discusses different types of joint injections, their benefits, and their risks. It also explains what to expect from treatment.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 58.5 million American adults have arthritis. Types of arthritis include:

Joint injections can be beneficial but may not work for everyone. Doctors may recommend more than one treatment to help manage their pain.

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) says that doctors commonly use joint injections in the knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, or wrists. They may also recommend them for people with hand or foot pain.

The AF identifies six different types of joint injections:


Corticosteroids are fast-acting, anti-inflammatory medications chemically similar to one of the body’s anti-inflammatory hormones called cortisol.

When injecting corticosteroids into a person’s joints, doctors also use a local anesthetic.

Schedule and cost

Doctors recommend up to 3–4 shots per year. Any more than this may cause harmful side effects that outweigh the benefits. Medical insurance usually covers corticosteroid injections.

Learn more about steroid injections here.

Hyaluronic acid (HA)

Doctors usually recommend HA injections for people experiencing chronic knee pain, according to Versus Arthritis. HA works in various ways to improve knee pain. It is a natural lubricant that helps the bones in joints slide over each other.

Doctors may recommend a combination of HA and corticosteroids or platelet-rich plasma rather than HA alone.

Schedule and cost

Most brands of injection have a treatment schedule of once per week for 3 or 5 weeks. Medical insurance often covers HA injections, but pre-authorization may be necessary.

Learn about HA for OA here.


Prolotherapy is a procedure where doctors inject a sugar solution, or other natural irritants, into the joints. Doctors believe the irritants trigger the body’s healing process.

Schedule and cost

A person may need 15–20 shots monthly for 3–4 months. Medical insurance rarely covers prolotherapy. Each session can cost around $800.

Learn more about prolotherapy here.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), PRP involves taking a blood sample from a person and removing the red and white blood cells. Doctors then inject the remaining plasma and platelets into the person’s joint.

The AAOS says platelets contain proteins called growth factors, and these injections have a greater concentration of proteins than are typically found in the blood. Doctors believe that using a person’s own platelets speeds up healing.

Schedule and cost

People can receive a one-time shot or have three shots over 3 weeks. This costs around $2,000. Medical insurance typically does not cover PRP therapy.

Learn more about PRP therapy here.

Autologous conditioned serum (ACS)

ACS is another treatment involving the person’s own blood. After drawing blood, doctors incubate it overnight and inject it into the person’s joint. The incubated blood has a higher concentration of natural anti-inflammatory molecules.

A 2021 meta-analysis shows that the treatment reduces pain and increases range of movement.

Schedule and cost

There are different ACS treatment protocols. People may have a one-time injection or shots once a week for 3–5 weeks. Twice a week for 3 weeks is also possible. Medical insurance does not cover this treatment, and a series of injections may cost $10,000.

Stem cell injections

Doctors collect stem cells from the person’s bone marrow or fat tissue and inject them into the affected joint. The idea is that the stem cells trigger regeneration in the joint, but the AF cautions that its effectiveness is not proven.

Schedule and cost

There is no typical schedule for stem cell therapy, and doctors will likely determine it on a case-by-case basis. This is due to a lack of quality evidence and medical consensus supporting the therapy.

A single knee injection at a stem cell clinic may cost around $5,000. Most medical insurers will not cover this type of therapy.

Learn more about stem cells here.

According to the AF, the most significant benefit of joint injections is their ability to reduce pain and inflammation. However, they point out that the relief may only be temporary, lasting a few weeks or months.

Joint injections also have the following benefits:

  • They are minimally invasive.
  • Doctors administer them in an outpatient setting.
  • Most people tolerate them well.
  • They often provide immediate relief.
  • They provide another treatment option when other treatments are ineffective.
  • Medical insurance often covers corticosteroid and HA injections.

Most people receive joint injections in a doctor’s office. People having treatments involving blood or stem cells will need to visit a specialist clinic.

The ACR explains that after cleaning the injection site, doctors insert the needle directly into the joint. Once they remove the needle, they may apply pressure to stop any bleeding and bandage the joint if necessary.

Sometimes doctors use ultrasound to help them position the injection in the affected joint.

Most people leave the doctor’s office immediately after the injection.

Treatments affect people differently, so the duration of effects varies. The AF says that about two-thirds of people with HA treatment experienced relief for up to 6 months. Corticosteroid injections were not as long lasting, with pain relief lasting about 1 month.

According to the AAOS, some studies show that the effects of PRP injections last up to 2 years.

According to a 2022 article, corticosteroids can cause serious side effects, including eye damage and diabetes. They can also cause adrenal suppression, which is when a person’s adrenal glands stop producing cortisol.

The AF states that HA injections do not carry the same risks as corticosteroids, with most people experiencing only pain and stiffness in the affected joint.

Doctors do not usually recommend stem cell injections unless a person is having joint surgery. Collecting stem cells from bone marrow or fat tissue is an invasive procedure and carries the usual surgical risks, such as infection.

Doctors may recommend joint injections if a person’s joints are particularly swollen and sore.

Most procedures take place in a doctor’s office and are noninvasive. If the treatment uses blood or stem cells, doctors must collect these before the person has the injection.

Joint injections aim to relieve pain and swelling and increase range of motion. The effects can last for several months, depending on the type of treatment.