What to Expect

If your doctor has recommended cortisone injections, it’s likely for the purpose of reducing inflammation and relieving you of pain, usually in a joint.

Cortisone injections are common and can be used to treat damage resulting from an injury or a disease. Examples of conditions that can potentially be treated with cortisone injections include:

  • bursitis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • gout
  • lupus
  • osteoarthritis
  • plantar fasciitis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • rotator cuff injury
  • tendinitis

The shots can easily be administered in a doctor’s office and do not take long. Usually the cortisone is injected into a joint area, such as in the back, knee, hip, elbow, ankle, shoulder or wrist.

Cortisone, which is typically administered as a corticosteroid (a steroid hormone), works by suppressing the body’s immune system, which minimizes the swelling and inflammation associated with the injury or disease and relieves pain.

The injection itself does not necessarily cause pain, but will feel like pressure is being applied to the joint. The corticosteroid is then released into the injection site, usually along with an anesthetic. While the corticosteroid works gradually to reduce inflammation and pain over time, the anesthetic works much quicker to provide immediate pain relief.

Following the shot, a person may experience temporary redness and warmth of the skin in that area. In some cases, there may be temporary pain; if bothersome, it can usually be treated with an ice pack. It will be necessary to keep the area clean and protected and watch for any signs of infection.

Cortisone injections are rarely given repeatedly over a long period of time due to risks and potential complications. First, there is some evidence that cortisone may contribute to the destruction of cartilage in a joint. So while the cortisone injections can do much in the way of relieving pain for a patient, he or she may be limited to only two, three or four, depending on the severity of the condition.

Second, because cortisone limits the immune system, there is the potential for infection and deterioration of tissue around the injection site. Physicians routinely advise patients to suspend use of any blood-thinning medications prior to administration of the injections to prevent excessive bleeding and bruising at the injection site.

Additional risks of cortisone injections include:

  • osteonecrosis (death of bone)
  • osteoporosis (weakening of bone)
  • nerve damage
  • skin discoloration at injection site
  • tendon rupture

Image via Daniel Paquet on Flickr

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