Cortisone injections are one of the most effective ways to treat symptoms of chronic pain conditions including sciatica, joint pain, and arthritis. Cortisone injections are available on the NHS, but it’s not always easy or possible to get a prescription for cortisone injection treatment from your NHS GP. September 2023 figures show a record high waiting list of approximately 6.5 million patients waiting for some kind of NHS treatment . Of these, nearly 400,000 have waited more than a year.
That’s why many people with joint or back pain turn to private healthcare for help. Harley Street Specialist Hospital offers cortisone injections and other types of steroid injections to self-paying patients, or those with private health insurance.
In this article, we’ll explore why cortisone injections aren’t always offered on the NHS, and what to do if you need steroid injections for pain management.
How can I get a cortisone injection on the NHS?
Cortisone injections are usually used for chronic pain conditions caused by inflammation and swelling around the joints, such as arthritis, sciatica, and tendonitis. Cortisone injections for the shoulder, knee, and back are some of the most common treatments.
If you have pain in any of your joints, the first step for getting a cortisone injection on the NHS is booking an appointment with your GP. They’ll discuss your symptoms and medical history with you and determine which treatment path is most appropriate.
Your GP will usually recommend ways of managing your condition at home before offering corticosteroid treatment. This typically includes:
- Lifestyle changes — You may be advised to do more exercise if you live a sedentary lifestyle, or lose weight if you have a high body mass index (BMI).
- Medication — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce swelling and relieve pain around the joints.
- Specific exercises — Certain exercises may be recommended to keep your joints mobile and flexible.
- Physiotherapy — Trained physiotherapists can manually massage, stretch, and manipulate your joints to reduce stiffness and pain.
If these treatments don’t work, you may be offered cortisone injections on the NHS. It can take more than a year to exhaust the non-invasive treatments for easing chronic pain, and GPs will generally only prescribe cortisone if your condition is particularly painful or longstanding.
Can my GP give me a cortisone injection?
If you’re eligible, your GP may be able to give you a cortisone injection. If they can’t, they can refer you to a specialist clinic or practitioner who is trained to administer steroid injections. At Harley Street Specialist Hospital’s pain management unit, we have the largest pool of specialist pain consultants in the UK.
However, steroid injections for pain management aren’t a first-line treatment on the NHS. They’re more likely to refer you to a physiotherapist, recommend exercises you can do at home, or prescribe painkillers to help you manage the pain.
If your pain hasn’t reduced after several months, you may be referred for cortisone injection treatment on the NHS. Relief from an epidural injection for back pain can last up to a year.
Why won’t my GP refer me for a cortisone injection?
Your NHS doctor may feel cortisone injections won’t be beneficial for you. This could be the case if:
- They’re unsure if inflammation and swelling are causing your discomfort.
- The risks of getting a steroid injection outweigh the benefits.
- A previous steroid injection hasn’t worked or given you much relief.
- They know or suspect an underlying injury is the reason for your pain.
These are all important considerations, so if you have questions, make sure to discuss them with your doctor. If you’re not getting the answers you need, consider speaking to a private cortisone injection specialist.
Can I self-refer for a cortisone injection?
Yes, you can refer yourself to a private clinic or hospital such as Harley Street Specialist Hospital for a cortisone injection.
Self-referring lets you skip the waiting lists that often hold up NHS treatment. While you’ll need to pay for private treatment, you can usually relieve symptoms of chronic pain much more quickly when you self-refer.
See current estimated wait times for NHS treatment at your local NHS trust here.
Alternatives to getting a cortisone injection on the NHS
If you don’t want to wait to get a cortisone injection on the NHS, or you’ve been advised you’re unlikely to be prescribed this treatment, there are other ways to relieve your joint pain.
The quickest, most convenient alternative is to seek out a trained private practitioner to administer your treatment. At HSSH, your diagnosis, assessment, and cortisone injections will often be provided on the same day, giving you rapid pain relief.
Private practitioners will still need to assess you and determine if steroid injections are suitable for you. Some people — such as those who have had recent steroid treatment or are taking other medications — may not be eligible.
In addition, you could try:
- Pilates — It’s not a quick fix, but Pilates and other exercises can strengthen and stabilise your muscles, supporting your joints and reducing stiffness to relieve pain.
- Shockwave therapy — Acoustic shock waves are sent through your joints to disrupt any scarring that’s causing inflammation .
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy — Platelets from your blood are used to accelerate healing in a targeted area .
- Bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC) — Stem cells and growth factors are harvested from bone marrow and used to heal joint or tendon injuries.
Private doctors can help you find and combine the most effective treatments — including cortisone injections — for the fastest, most cost-effective pain relief. Book an appointment with our team to book your assessment.