Are Cortisone Shots Effective for Joint Pain?

When you’re suffering from ongoing joint pain, whether it’s in your shoulder, lower back, hip, or knee, all you want is relief. Depending on how frequent and severe your pain is, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid injection into the affected joint. Cortisone shots are injections of medicine that ease pain and inflammation in different parts of the body.

Dr. Stephen Reed explains, “The effects of a cortisone injection into a painful joint are local. That means it only affects the treated area, not the entire body. Localized cortisone shots are effective at reducing inflammation and, thus, treating joint pain. Administered by our providers, these injections can help preserve tissue threatened by continuous inflammation.

Cortisone injections are only a temporary pain-relieving solution. Keep in mind, cortisone treats pain, not damage or injury. If you have joint pain or swelling, consider speaking with one of our orthopaedic specialists to discuss whether cortisone injections are an appropriate option for your specific needs.”

What is cortisone?

Cortisone is a type of medication called a corticosteroid. At Florida Orthopaedic Associates, we use these drugs to treat inflammation in and around the joint. Commonly used cortisone variants in our practice include Kenalog® (tramcinolone) Depo-Medrol® (methylprednisolone), and Celestone® (Betamethasone).

People most commonly receive cortisone shots in joints of the hip, knee, shoulder, spine, hands, and feet.

What conditions are treated with cortisone?

Almost any painful muscle, tendon, bone, or joint problem, and many nerve conditions can be treated with cortisone:

  • Bursitis
  • Arthritis
  • Tendonitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Tennis elbow
  • Trigger fingers and points
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Joint inflammation & pain
  • Nerve inflammation
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Morton neuromas in the foot
  • Muscle inflammation
  • Neck and back pain

What are the 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.

Frequent treatments over time can cause tissue damage or tendon rupture, depending on the location of the injection.

Cortisone can also raise blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and therefore should be monitored. Cortisone may also (more rarely) cause osteoporosis (low bone density), fluid retention (swelling of the limbs), high blood pressure, and alterations in mood.

What should I expect after I get a cortisone shot? 

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.

In the immediate short term, the injection site can experience some pain, depending on your pain threshold and the location of the injection. This is known as a “cortisone flare.” A period of numbness lasting several hours may occur. Severe burning pain over 36-48 hours is common and not a cause for alarm.

A cortisone injection Is part of a larger treatment plan. Since these injections provide temporary relief, patients who are seeking long-term relief are typically advised to:

  • Participate in physical therapy. Stretching and strengthening muscles and other soft tissues help relieve pain and other arthritis symptoms.
  • Lose weight. Shedding excess pounds can reduce stress on a joint. Another reason to lose excess weight: cortisone injections may be less effective in relieving knee osteoarthritis pain in patients who are obese.
  • Make lifestyle changes. Simple changes, such as changing footwear, can reduce lower extremity joint pain and improve mobility in older adults with osteoarthritis.