Ankle Pain

Different types of injections for ankle pain

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Marc Darrow MD,JD

A July 2020 paper (1) compared various injection treatments for ankle pain caused by osteochondral lesions (loss of cartilage leading to a bone on bone situation) and osteoarthritis. The injection treatments included were hyaluronic acid, Platelet-rich plasma (PRP), saline, methylprednisolone (steroid), botulinum toxin type A, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), and prolotherapy.

This was a review study where researchers combined studies and the study data to form an opinion on which of these treatments would work best. The problem with the results of this study? There were not enough studies of good evidence in direct comparisons of ALL the treatments for the researchers to review to give any opinion. While we then cannot offer a direct comparison of the treatments, we can review the research in this article where there is a direct comparison and give a broad over view of these treatments for ankle pain.
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Side-effects of corticosteroid injections including joint destruction

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Marc Darrow MD,JD

Systemic and local side-effects of corticosteroid injections including joint destruction

A patient will often come into our office with conflicting ideas about cortisone injections. The patient will tell us that his/her other doctors told them that cortisone injections are safe, effective, and will help their pain, if used sparingly. But, intuitively, the patient had doubts and concerns.

But as this patient continued to wait for a surgery, decisions had to be made as to how much pain management would be needed to “hold them over,” until the surgical date.

Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory substances. They are not used to relieve pain, but rather, to reduce inflammation, which in turn can lessen a patient’s level of discomfort. Numerous studies over the years have shown that prolonged use of cortisone will eventually cause degenerative joint disease in the joints they are injected into.


A December 2020 paper in the medical journal Radiology (1) says this:

  • Current management of osteoarthritis is primarily focused on symptom control.
  • Intra-articular corticosteroid injections are often used for pain management of hip and knee osteoarthritis in patients who have not responded to oral or topical analgesics.
  • “Recent case series suggested that negative structural outcomes including accelerated osteoarthritis progression, subchondral insufficiency fracture (stress fractures in the bone beneath cartilage), complications of pre-existing osteonecrosis, and rapid joint destruction (including bone loss) may be observed in patients who received Intra-articular corticosteroid injections .
  • The true cause and natural history of these complications are unclear and require further study. To determine the cause and natural history, large prospective studies evaluating the risk of osteoarthritis or joint destruction after Intra-articular corticosteroid injections are needed.

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Stem Cell therapy and alternatives to ankle fusion and ankle replacement surgery

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Marc Darrow MD,JD

We do get many emails about ankle pain. Some people write that they are on a waiting list for an ankle fusion, sometimes one, sometimes both ankles, and while they are waiting, they want to know if stem cell therapy can be an option. Others write that the are bone on bone and have lost all the cartilage in their ankle, can we help?

I usually respond asking about the limitations the person has. If the ankle can still bend and rotate? Generally speaking, if your ankle is not locked in place by bone spurring and you can still move your foot around, we would think that stem cell therapy could help. I discuss this below.

Treatment options for advanced ankle osteoarthritis

A study published in March 2019 (1) discusses the problem orthopedists and surgeons have in presenting treatment options to their patients with advanced ankle osteoarthritis. As many doctors and patients are aware, ankle osteoarthritis treatment protocols have no real guideline recommendations of its own. Researchers say most doctors treat an ankle problem as they would treat a knee or hip and follow hip or knee treatment protocols when treating the ankle. Is this really such a bad thing?
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