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Steroid shots: Benefits and risks

Man holding arm in pain

Summary

In this article, Beth Coker discusses the pros and cons of using cortisone to relieve pain and inflammation in the body.

Cortisone shots help relieve pain and inflammation in your body, most commonly in joints such as your feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands. Tendons and bursa, those tiny sacs of fluid that reduce friction between bone and soft tissue, can also benefit from cortisone shots.

Cortisone is a synthetic steroid that mimics the effects of cortisol, a naturally occurring hormone produced by your adrenal gland. It’s different from the anabolic steroids that some athletes use to enhance performance.

Cortisone shots deliver a high dose of medication directly to the problem area to reduce pain and improve function. It usually takes about seven days for the cortisone to begin working. Pain relief from the shots can last up to several months.

Injections are generally well-tolerated and are less likely to produce serious side effects than other forms of steroid medications.

Benefits

Cortisone typically treats pain and swelling from these and other conditions:

  • Injuries
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Rheumatoid and other types of arthritis
  • Gout
  • Spinal stenosis or ruptured disks
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Trigger finger

Risks and potential side effects

Side effects from cortisone shots increase with larger doses and repeated use. These can include:

  • Cartilage damage
  • Joint infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint
  • Temporary increase in blood sugar
  • Tendon weakening or rupture
  • Death of nearby bone

Frequent steroid injections — more than once every three or four months — are not recommended because of the increased risk of weakening tissues in the treated area.

Injections often can be given in your doctor’s office and sometimes include a numbing medication to make the shot more comfortable.

If you’re suffering from severe joint pain, talk with your doctor about cortisone injections. They may provide the relief you need to get back to enjoying your daily activities.

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