August 20, 2021
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Kenneth G. Swan, M.D. contributes to topics such as Orthopedic Surgery, .
Many people have had cortisone shots—sometimes called steroid shots—to relieve pain and improve function for sports injuries like tendonitis and meniscus tears, as well as chronic conditions like arthritis, bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. These injections can provide immense relief from pain and promote healing, but they aren’t for every person in every situation.
Orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Kenneth G. Swan, M.D., breaks down what you need to know.
Q: How do cortisone shots work?
A: Cortisone is a powerful and focused inflammatory medication. When an injury or medical condition includes swelling, cortisone shots can provide intense, localized relief without the full-body exposure to medications that over-the-counter products like aspirin and ibuprofen can cause.
Q: How long before you get relief from pain?
A: Cortisone can take up to several days to provide relief. Because of that, Dr. Swan and other physicians often include a local anesthetic in the shot to provide immediate relief until the cortisone kicks in.
Q: How long does the relief last?
A: The relief provided by the cortisone can last anywhere from a few weeks to a lifetime.
Q: What are the possible side effects of cortisone shots?
A: While cartilage damage, bone death, joint infection and nerve damage are possible, if the shot is done by an experienced doctor, those complications are exceedingly rare. More common, but still rare, side effects can include temporary facial flushing, a temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint, temporary skin lightening when the shot is near the surface and the person has darker skin tones. In addition, a temporary increase in blood sugar can occur, especially in patients who have poorly controlled diabetes.
Q: Do cortisone shots work for everyone?
A: Some patients respond better than others, and in some cases, there is no noticeable improvement from the treatment.
Q: Do you have to be a certain age to get cortisone shots?
A: Younger people and children will often heal without these shots, so cortisone is probably not an appropriate way to get them back into sports before they heal. Older patients who are not a candidate for surgical treatment of their injury or chronic condition may benefit from one or a series of shots.
Q: Do cortisone shots hurt?
A: Shots in small joints like fingers and feet can be quite painful; shots in knees, shoulders and hips are much less so. Your doctor has topical treatments that can be used to minimize discomfort.
Q: After an injury, should I get a cortisone shot right away?
A: A lot of things get better within a couple of weeks on their own. If you are in pain, give it a few weeks to heal on its own. If you are in a lot of pain, consult your doctor about what treatment options are the best for this situation.
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our source: Kenneth G. Swan, M.D. To make an appointment with Dr. Swan or another doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn more about care after a sports injury
- Do over-the-counter knee braces really work?
- Getting back on track after a sports injury
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.