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Adding joint and soft-tissue injection to your practice can pay off in more ways than one.

Fam Pract Manag. 2003;10(10):38-40

As practices’ expenses continue to grow at a faster pace than revenues, physicians are under greater pressure to do more with less. While working harder and seeing increasing numbers of patients each day is an option, finding methods to work smarter is becoming an attractive alternative. One viable strategy for your practice is to increase charges per unit of time. Performing more procedures is a simple and successful way to achieve this goal.

As you are probably aware, not all procedures are created equal. Some procedures (e.g., flexible sigmoidoscopy) are reimbursed very poorly considering the time they require. Other procedures (e.g., skin biopsy and excisions, colposcopy/biopsy and exercise treadmill testing), though reimbursed more handsomely, may require significant amounts of physician and nursing time, significant up-front costs to the practice and extensive training. However, there is another category of procedures well worth your time and effort – joint and soft-tissue injections.

Here are some of the benefits of adding joint and soft-tissue injections to your clinical armamentarium:

  • Patients appreciate their primary care physicians offering services that traditionally require a referral to a specialist.

  • Patients avoid treatment delays.

  • Physicians’ satisfaction improves when a variety of procedures are integrated into their daily schedules.

  • Practice revenues can improve significantly. Joint injection reimbursement will match or beat any other office-based procedure on the basis of charge per unit of time (see “Comparing office-based procedures”).


  • Performing simple office procedures, such as joint and soft-tissue injections, is an effective way to increase your revenue, improve patient satisfaction and maintain your enthusiasm for medicine.

  • To learn injection techniques, select a course or workshop that includes adequate time for observation and practice.

  • When first learning to administer injections, begin with less difficult sites, which is where patients most often present with complaints.

Joint injections 101

To many physicians, breaking out of the comfort zone of current practice patterns is difficult. The motivation to learn a new procedure can be maintained only by deriving some genuine satisfaction from performing the procedure regularly. Although performing joint injections will benefit your patients and your wallet, remember that keeping yourself engaged and excited in your practice of medicine is just as vital.

If you’re willing to embark on this new challenge, the first step is to learn the procedure. Attending a workshop or short course that focuses on joint and soft-tissue injection techniques can provide you with the necessary training. (Also see “Suggested reading” for additional resources on joint injection.) You can contact your local AAFP chapter to inquire about courses offered in your region. The content of these courses will vary depending on the instructor, the length of the course and the sponsoring institution. I highly recommend seeking a course where at least a portion of the time is dedicated to observing and practicing the actual injection techniques for each of the areas covered. You will need to learn the indications, contraindications, preparation and aftercare for each of the most common injection sites.


Significant studies have shown that intra-articular and soft-tissue injection therapies play an important role in the diagnosis and management of degenerative joint disease, rheumatoid arthritis, crystalline arthritis, bursitis, tendinopathies and entrapment neuropathies. For several decades, intra-articular steroid injections were common despite the paucity of evidence demonstrating their efficacy for various painful arthropathies and periarthropathies. In recent years, however, several controlled studies have been conducted to measure the effectiveness of corticosteroid injections.

Though some studies have demonstrated only short-term benefits from steroid injections, several others have demonstrated long-term benefits, including decreased pain, increased range of motion and improved joint function.2,3,4 In particular, studies have demonstrated the efficacy of corticosteroids for patients with chronic subacromial impingement syndrome and for early disease control in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.3,4

Even after you complete a course, proficiency with these techniques will require practice. Optimally, you’ll be able to gain some experience in a supervised setting, with a physician who is competent in per forming these procedures. The number of supervised procedures necessary to achieve competency will certainly vary, but most physicians should feel comfort able after three to five injections at any given site.

If you are learning injection techniques for the first time, it would be beneficial to master two or three areas before moving on to sites requiring greater technical skills. Initial injection sites include the subacromial bursa of the shoulder, the knee joint and the lateral epicondyle of the elbow. Not only are injections at these sites technically less difficult than others, but when patients present with clinical complaints that may require an injection, these sites are the ones that most often need attention. The anatomy of these areas is relatively straightforward to learn, which makes these injections the easiest to master.

ProcedureCPT codeMedicare reimbursement*Estimated physician time (minutes)Initial cost of equipmentReimbursement per hour (not including nursing or overhead costs)
Flexible sigmoidoscopy45330$10320–30**$3,000–$7,000$206–$309
Colposcopy with biopsy57455$14825–30**$3,000–$5,000$296–$355
Exercise treadmill93015$10320–30**$5,000–$10,000$206–$309
Epidermal shave biopsy ≤ 0.5 cm11300$5510–15Supplies only$220–$330
Excisional biopsy ≤ 0.511400$10820–30**Supplies only$216–$324
Joint injection, small joint (e.g., finger, toe)20600***$505Supplies only$600
Joint injection, medium joint (e.g., elbow, wrist)20605***$555Supplies only$660
Joint injection, large joint (e.g., shoulder, knee, hip)20610***$675Supplies only$804

Reaping the benefits

Learning a new procedure can be a worthwhile investment for you and your practice. Joint and soft-tissue corticosteroid injections have been well studied with positive results. Take a little time to practice the techniques, and your satisfied patients and increased revenue will make you glad you did.


The Clinics Atlas of Office Procedures: Joint Injection Techniques. Pfenninger JL, ed. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B Saunders Company; 2002.

“Physiatric injection Procedures.” Dreyer S Dreyfuss P, Cole AJ Windsor R. In: The Low Back Pain Handbook: A Practical Guide for the Primary Care Clinician. 2nd ed. Cole AJ, Herring SA, eds. Hagerstown, Md: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2002.

Office Orthopedics for Primary Care. Anderson BC. Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders Company; 1999.

Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care. 2nd ed. Snider RK, ed. Rosemont, lll: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; 1997.

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