Cortisone is a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and released into the bloodstream in response to stress. A natural steroid, cortisol reduces inflammation by suppressing the body’s response in an irritated area. Available in a wide range of strengths, cortisone shots work like cortisol to reduce inflammation, calm irritated nerves, and indirectly alleviate pain.
As an orthopedic treatment, cortisone is injected directly into a site of inflammation, such as a painful joint. The effects can vary: Some people report immediate pain relief, while others experience a gradual reduction in pain over several days or weeks.
What Conditions Can Be Treated With Cortisone Shots?
Cortisone can be injected locally to target inflammation in a relatively small area of the body. For example, local steroid injections can be used to treat:
- Bursitis – an inflamed bursa (fluid-filled sac) in a shoulder, elbow, knee, or hip
- Tendonitis – an inflamed tendon, such as tennis elbow
- Osteoarthritis – an inflamed joint, such as a hip, knee, ankle, foot, shoulder, elbow, wrist, or hand joint
- Inflammatory disorders – gout and rheumatoid arthritis
Additionally, cortisone can be injected systemically to address conditions such as allergic reactions, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause inflammation of the skin or joints throughout the body. Usually, systemic steroid injections are administered intramuscularly into the gluteus muscles in the buttocks or the deltoid muscle in the shoulder. After being injected, the cortisone is absorbed into the blood and travels throughout the body via the bloodstream to reach widespread areas of inflammation.
Cortisone can also be combined with a local anesthetic and injected for diagnostic purposes. For example, if pain in the groin and buttock area improves after a cortisone shot is administered to the hip, a physician may confirm a diagnosis of arthritis in the hip joint and rule out a diagnosis of arthritis in the low back.
How Long Do Cortisone Shots Last?
While a cortisone injection can provide effective and lasting pain relief, it is important to understand that this treatment does not directly relieve pain, nor does it address the underlying issue that triggered the inflammation. In other words, its beneficial effects may be temporary. Many factors can influence the effectiveness of a steroid shot, including the condition being treated, the joint affected, and the patient’s overall health. In general, a cortisone injection can relieve pain for anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months, although in many cases it permanently resolves the pain.
Cortisone shots have a long history of safety and effectiveness when used properly. This treatment has few side effects, can be delivered with minimal discomfort, and is well-tolerated by most people. Because the resulting pain relief is usually effective, but can be temporary, some patients seek repeated injections. However, the pain relief that can be achieved with a steroid shot typically diminishes with continued use. In general, cortisone can be safely administered to a joint approximately once every 6 months, but the repeated use of cortisone more frequently for conditions like tendonitis can potentially weaken the treated tendon over time, so waiting the appropriate amount of time between injections is important.
Are Cortisone Shots Right for You?
Musculoskeletal pain doesn’t have to signal the end of an active lifestyle. If you are experiencing troubling symptoms or persistent pain, you are welcome to consult with Peter D. Vizzi, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who practices in Lafayette, LA. Dr. Vizzi will work with you to confirm your diagnosis, then help you decide whether a cortisone injection might be beneficial for you. If nonsurgical treatment does not support your lifestyle goals, Dr. Vizzi will explain your surgical options such as joint replacement, if appropriate.
To request a consultation, contact Dr. Vizzi’s office today.