Cortisone Shots: What Are They? How it works

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Overview

It is an injection that is used to treat pain and inflammation in a particular area of the body. Joints like ankles, elbows, hips, knees, shoulders, spines, or wrists are most commonly injected with them. A cortisone shot may benefit even smaller joints, such as those on your hands and feet.

Local anesthetic and corticosteroid medications are typically used in these injections. Your doctor can usually provide you with one. Shots can be administered only a few times a year due to the potential side effects.

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Reasons for doing it

Rheumatoid arthritis can be treated with cortisone shots, which are commonly used to treat inflammation. Other conditions can also be treated with them, such as:

  • Back pain
  • Bursitis
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Tendinitis

Risks

With repeated use and higher doses, cortisone shots may have greater side effects. The following can occur as side effects:

  • Cartilage damage
  • Death of nearby bone
  • Joint infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Temporary facial flushing
  • Temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint
  • Temporary increase in blood sugar
  • Tendon weakening or rupture
  • Thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis)
  • Thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site
  • Whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site

Putting a limit on how many cortisone shots are allowed

It is possible that repeated cortisone injections might damage cartilage in a joint. Cortisone injections into joints are typically limited in number by doctors.

As a general rule, cortisone injections should not be given more than once every six weeks, or more than three or four times each year.

How you prepare

Before you receive your cortisone shot, you might have to discontinue using blood thinners for several days to prevent bleeding or bruising. Blood-thinning effects can also be experienced with some dietary supplements. Ask your doctor whether you should avoid any medication and supplements before receiving a cortisone shot.

Your doctor should be informed if your temperature was greater than 100.4 F (38 C) in the last two weeks.

What you can expect

During the cortisone shot

Dress in a gown if your doctor requests it. When the needle is inserted, your doctor will position you easily to insert it.

An injection site is cleaned around it. The needle will also be numbed with an anesthetic spray applied by your physician. To ensure a needle is placed in the right spot, your doctor might use ultrasound or fluoroscopy.

During the insertion of the needle, you will likely feel some pressure. You should contact your doctor if you are in a great deal of discomfort.

An injection site is then injected with the medication. The corticosteroid medication in cortisone shots acts over time to decrease pain and inflammation, while the anesthetic provides immediate pain relief.

After the cortisone shot

The chest and face may be red and warm after a cortisone injection. The cortisone shot may temporarily raise blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.

The following steps may be asked of you after the cortisone shot:

  • Keep the injection area protected for a few days. Consider avoiding heavy lifting after receiving a cortisone shot in your shoulder. Whenever possible, stay off your feet following a cortisone shot to the knee.
  • Injected sites should be treated with ice to alleviate pain if necessary. Heat pads are not recommended.
  • Take a shower, whirlpool, or hot tub for two days. It’s OK to take a shower.

Results

A cortisone shot’s results are typically determined by the reason for the treatment. Following a cortisone injection, there is generally pain and swelling for 48 hours. There will be a decreasing trend in the inflammation and pain near that joint for a few months after that.

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