What are cortisone shots?
Cortisone shots are injections of medicine that ease pain and swelling in different parts of the body. Doctors use these shots to treat injuries and conditions such as arthritis or autoimmune disorders (when the body’s immune system harms its own cells).
Cortisone is a type of medication called a corticosteroid. Doctors use these drugs to treat inflammation (swelling) caused by injury and illness. Sometimes cortisone shots are called corticosteroid shots. Commonly used cortisone variants include Kenalog® (tramcinolone) Depo-Medrol® (methylprednisolone), and Celestone® (Betamethasone).
People most commonly receive cortisone shots in joints including the hip, knee, shoulder, spine, hands and feet. The cortisone reduces inflammation (swelling) in and around the joint.
How do cortisone shots work?
Doctors give cortisone shots during an office visit directly into the area or joint involved, or sometimes just into a large muscle to get it into the bloodstream. In other parts of the body, the injection often includes a local anesthetic (pain reliever) to start easing pain immediately. In these cases, cortisone is typically injected into three areas:
- Bursa (fluid-filled sacs that act as cushions between joints, tendons, and bones)
Risks / Benefits
What are complications or side effects of cortisone shots?
Cortisone can weaken the immune system. For this reason, many doctors limit injections to once every 3 months for a specific joint, and 6 times a year for the entire body.
Cortisone can also raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Doctors monitor blood sugar levels to make sure they are stable before delivering a cortisone injection. Cortisone may also (more rarely) cause osteoporosis (low bone density), fluid retention (swelling of the limbs and congestion in the lungs), high blood pressure, and alterations in mood.
Patients who take other corticosteroid medication such as prednisone pills or inhaled steroids should get fewer injections or lower doses if possible to minimize the above risks.
All injections have a risk of infection. For this reason, it is important to keep the injection site clean.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the outlook for people after cortisone shots?
It can take up to 7 days for a cortisone injection to begin working in the body. The effects of the injection usually last up to 2 months, but sometimes longer.
Cortisone can reduce inflammation that damages joints. Your doctor also may recommend other treatments to address joint pain resulting from another condition such as obesity, tendon or ligament damage, or an autoimmune disorder.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call the doctor after a cortisone shot?
Call your doctor if you experience a fever or severe pain, swelling or redness after a cortisone injection. These may be signs of an infection that your doctor can treat with medication.