A cortisone shot is an effective, temporary treatment for joint pain caused by arthritis or injuries. It is an outpatient procedure that provides relief for a variety of conditions. Read on to learn about what a cortisone shot is, what it treats, and other important information you should know before getting treated.
How Do Cortisone Shots Work For Joints?
Cortisone is a type of steroid known as a corticosteroid and is related to the hormone cortisol. The body naturally produces cortisol, and one role of cortisol is suppressing immune system activities, such as inflammation.
Inflammation is needed for healing and fighting infections but also causes pain and reduces joint mobility. With that in mind, too much inflammation can slow the healing process and cause considerable discomfort. To prevent excessive inflammation, many doctors use cortisone to block some of it.
What Conditions Can Doctors Treat with a Cortisone Shot?
The two main conditions doctors use cortisone shots to treat are arthritis and injuries. A shot can help manage pain in patients with osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and other types of inflammatory joint conditions.
However, the shot does not slow the progression of joint deterioration in arthritis. The purpose is to relieve pain, reduce swelling, and improve mobility in the knee, shoulder, hip, and other joints.
Cortisone shots also relieve pain and swelling for people with injured joints and accelerate healing. Doctors often use an injection to treat and heal:
- Torn and sprained ligaments
- Muscle strains
Doctors can use a cortisone shot to treat injuries in most joints, including knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, wrists, ankles, and vertebrae.
How Long Does a Cortisone Shot Last?
A cortisone injection can effectively manage pain, but it doesn’t last forever, and it wears off between a few weeks and a few months after the shot. If you have more severe arthritis, the effects will last less time.
How Often Can You Get a Cortisone Shot?
Because the shot’s effects are temporary, people with chronic pain from arthritis often get multiple injections per year. How often you can get a shot depends on your condition, symptom severity, reaction to the injection, and insurance coverage. Your doctor or specialist can discuss these factors with you, but three to four times per year is usually the limit.
Are There Any Side Effects or Risks?
One of the most important reasons you cannot get too many cortisone injections every year is the potential for side effects or joint damage. While cortisone shots have been used safely to treat joint pain for many years, there are some risks.
The most common cortisone shot side effects are immediate pain and swelling in the joint, though this is normal and occurs with most patients. After a couple of days, the additional inflammation and pain should decrease, and you’ll begin to feel the effects of the shot.
Too frequent use of cortisone in the same joint can increase tissue deterioration. This isn’t usually a problem if you receive temporary treatment for an injury. However, if you have arthritis, repeated injections may worsen the condition, according to studies.
Other concerns only apply to people with specific health concerns or chronic conditions. Cortisone lowers immunity, so an injection may be contraindicated if you already have a compromised immune system. It may also increase blood sugar, so let your specialist know if you have diabetes. Less common side effects include increased blood pressure, fluid retention, and osteoporosis.
The potential harm of cortisone shots is minimal if guided by a specialist who understands your health and risk factors.
What to Expect When Getting a Cortisone Injection
A cortisone injection is a relatively quick outpatient procedure. Your specialist will disinfect the injection area and may use a local anesthetic to numb it before the shot. They may also mix an anesthetic with the cortisone to reduce initial pain.
They will direct a needle into the affected area of the joint, sometimes guided by an ultrasound if it is a difficult area to reach. Your doctor will direct you to use ice at home to relieve initial pain and swelling and rest the joint for a couple of days.
What if a Cortisone Shot Doesn’t Work?
Expect to experience the effects of a cortisone shot within a few days. You may have increased pain for a day or two, but this should subside. Give it up to five days before determining that the shot didn’t work. If it did not, your doctor might want to try again in a few weeks.
A steroid injection works for most people, but if it doesn’t provide you relief, or you have complications that prohibit you from using it, there are other pain treatment options:
- Viscosupplementation (another type of joint injection)
- Platelet-rich plasma injections
- Stem cell injections
- Nerve blocks
You may also benefit from other non-surgical options, like physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications. Your specialist can also discuss the possibility of surgery to treat and relieve joint injuries and pain. Options range from minimally-invasive procedures to partial or complete joint replacements.
It’s essential to work with a specialist to manage joint pain and injuries. They can evaluate you and offer the best options for treatment. If you have joint pain or arthritis, request an appointment or self-schedule to meet with one of our joint specialists at EmergeOrtho.