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Cortisone shots are injections that help relieve pain and inflammation in your joints, muscles, or connective tissue. They’re commonly used to manage symptoms of painful inflammatory conditions, such as:

  • arthritis
  • bursitis
  • tendonitis
  • sports injuries
  • back pain
  • gout

Cortisone shots are fast-acting and can provide significant short-term pain relief for weeks to months. Although cortisone shots are generally safe, they do come with some potential risks.

Keep reading for an overview of everything you should know about cortisone shots.

A cortisone shot helps relieve pain by reducing inflammation in a certain part of your body. The cortisone is delivered into the affected area with a thin needle.

Cortisone is a type of molecule known as a corticosteroid, a precursor to the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced by your adrenal gland and plays many roles in your body, including suppressing the activity of your immune system.

Inflammation is your immune system’s way of protecting your body from injuries, foreign substances, or anything else potentially damaging. Inflammation releases various substances, including the hormones bradykinin and histamineTrusted Source. These hormones irritate nerves and send pain signals to your brain.

A cortisone shot reduces levels of molecules that stimulate inflammation. This can improve joint function and reduce stimulation of your nerves which leads to pain.

These shots often take effect within a few days, though some can be effective within a few hours, and can provide pain relief for up to several months depending on:

  • the part of your body treated
  • the dose you receive
  • your individual response to the shot

Cortisone and other corticosteroid shots are used to treat a wide variety of inflammatory conditions involving joints, muscles, or connective tissues.

Shoulder pain

Corticosteroid injections can cause short-term improvements in frozen shoulder and shoulder impingements.

2015 study in American Family Physician found that over a period of 8 to 16 weeks, corticosteroid injections are more effective for managing frozen shoulder than oral corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and physical therapy. But the study found that the outcome between groups isn’t significant after a year.

Osteoarthritis

Cortisone shots are often used to treat knee or hip osteoarthritis.

For the knee, pain relief typically lasts for 1 to 2 weeks but may last up to 4 weeks.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is compression of your median nerve that often causes tingling or pain in your hand.

2017 reviewTrusted Source of studies suggests that corticosteroids can lead to short-term relief in about 45 out of 100 people.

Trigger finger

Trigger finger is the locking of a finger caused by inflammation of the tendons.

The 2015 study mentioned earlier found 54 to 86 percent cure rates after corticosteroid injections.

Bursitis

Bursitis is inflammation of small fluid-filled sacs called bursae found around your joints.

Cortisone injections may help reduce this inflammation temporarily. Corticosteroid injections for the bursa around the head of your femur provide greater pain relief at 6 weeks and 3 months than physical therapy and pain relievers, but not after one year.

Cortisone can travel into your bloodstream and cause full-body side effects.

According to a 2019 review of studiesTrusted Source, the amount of cortisone that gets absorbed into your blood seems to vary significantly between people. But both joint and epidural injections can have effects that last for weeks.

There’s also some evidence from a 2020 study that a single shot can increase your risk of developing infectious diseases, such as the flu.

In rare cases, an improperly performed injection can lead to nerve damage.

The most common side effects of steroid injections include:

  • pain around the injection site, also called a cortisone flare
  • bruising or dimples at the injection site
  • pale or thin skin around the injection
  • facial flushing
  • insomnia
  • temporary high blood sugar
  • temporary high blood pressure
  • increased appetite

Rarer but potentially serious side effects include:

  • infection
  • allergic reaction
  • weakened tendons
  • bone mineral loss
  • adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease)
  • abnormal heart rate
  • vision changes
  • seizures

Cortisone shots typically cost roughly $100 to 300 but can be more than $1,000. Your insurance may cover some or all of the cost.

The exact cost that you pay out of pocket for a cortisone shot varies widely between clinics and depends on:

  • the clinic you visit
  • where you live
  • what type of shot you get

Medicare reports that patients pay an average of $84 for injections of therapeutic substances, such as cortisone, when performed at a non-hospital facility. The average price at a hospital is $146.

Here’s what you can expect when you get a cortisone injection:

  1. Depending on what part of your body is being treated, you may be asked to change into a hospital gown.
  2. A doctor or specialist will clean the area around the injection site with alcohol wipes and wait for the alcohol to dry.
  3. The doctor or specialist will likely apply a spray or anesthetic to numb the pain.
  4. They will make an injection with a thin needle. You may feel some pressure, but most people don’t experience a significant amount of discomfort or pain.

Supplementary treatment options vary depending on your particular issue. Some options may include:

  • physical therapy
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • muscle relaxers
  • disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • lifestyle measure, such as managing your diet or weight
  • surgery

A doctor may be able to recommend alternative treatments for your condition. For some issues like chronic knee pain, surgery may be the best option.

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection is an experimental treatment that may help you manage joint pain. More research is needed to understand their potential benefit.

Hyaluronic injections are also sometimes used to treat knee pain when cortisone shots aren’t effective.

Serious side effects are uncommon, but you should let a doctor know if you experience anything out of the ordinary, such as:

  • increased pain
  • fatigue
  • changes in skin color around the injection site

It’s also a good idea to let a doctor know if you haven’t noticed any improvements so that they can modify or change your treatment.

Seek emergency medical attention if you experience concerning symptoms such as:

  • signs of an allergic reaction
  • trouble breathing or swallowing
  • confusion or cognitive changes
  • seizures
  • vision problems
  • fever or chills

Cortisone shots are used to treat a wide variety of inflammatory conditions affecting your joints or other parts of your musculoskeletal system. They’re generally safe, but they can cause side effects that either affect the treated area or your whole body.

Discuss the pros and cons with a doctor beforehand. Depending on your condition, there may be alternative treatment options that have fewer side effects or are cheaper.

JPeei Clinic