Cortisone shots treat pain and inflammation in joints, tendons, and tissue. Often used in the treatment of orthopedic problems such as arthritis and tendinitis, cortisone acts quickly in reducing pain, as it gets injected directly into the inflamed area.
While many people think of cortisone as a cure-all, too much of a good thing can lead to complications. But when used occasionally, cortisone can bring relief that lasts longer than most other medications.
How long does a cortisone shot last and what conditions can it treat? Read on to learn about cortisone and how this medication can help reduce pain.
What Is Cortisone?
Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. It is used to treat a wide range of conditions, and it works by reducing inflammation in the body, especially joints.
Often referred to as corticosteroids, cortisone is a synthetic steroid that mimics the body’s natural cortisol, which is created by the adrenal glands.
What Conditions Can It Treat?
While it’s often used to treat inflammatory arthritis, doctors may also prescribe cortisone for the following conditions:
- Plantar fascitis
- Rheumatoid, reactive, or psoriatic arthritis
- Skin conditions such as acne
Cortisone is usually injected is the ankle, elbow, hip, or knee. However, it can also be used to treat inflammation and reduce pain in the small joints of the hands as well as larger areas like the shoulder and spine.
These shots can be used to treat sports injuries like tennis elbow and hamstring problems. Allergic responses, including asthma, can also be suppressed with large quantities of cortisone.
How Long Does a Cortisone Shot Last?
While the consultation and injection will only take a few minutes, the pain-relieving effects of a cortisone shot will last much longer. As local anesthetic is often given along with the shot, some patients’ pain dissipates immediately. Once the anesthetic wears off, most people feel the effects of the cortisone within three to five days.
The ongoing relief of cortisone is often felt for many months. Depending on the condition being treated and the level of inflammation, it’s possible for a single cortisone shot to provide relief for up to six months.
Factors that may impact how long a cortisone shot lasts include:
- The joint or tendon being treated
- The overall health of the patient
- How long the joint is rested after injection
Resting the joint refers to the amount of time that passed between injections. If a patient does not experience pain relief within two to three weeks, a doctor will normally recommend a second injection. However, should pain persist past the second injection, an alternate treatment plan may be more suitable for the condition.
How Many Cortisone Shots Can You Have?
As some tendons are more likely to have post-injection complications, doctors will often inject next to the tendon rather than risk further damage. Although cortisone can continue to provide relief for months, too many injections can cause damage to the tendon, joint, or tissue.
Due to the risk of complications, most doctors recommend no more than three injections per year in the same location. It’s also important to note that while cortisone can temporarily suppress inflammation, it generally does nothing to treat the underlying cause of pain.
What Is the Procedure?
Before having a cortisone shot, speak to your doctor about any medications that you are taking. As blood thinners increase the risk of bleeding and bruising, it’s normally recommended to stop taking these a few days before the shot.
It’s important to speak to your doctor about your medical history prior to taking cortisone. As there can be adverse effects advise your doctor if you have any of the following conditions:
- High blood pressure
- Liver or kidney disease
- A previous history of malaria
- Stomach ulcers
The injection can often be performed in your doctor’s office, and the doctor may do some preparation in order to minimize pain. Once the needle is inserted, the medication is released into the body.
Does It Hurt?
Like any injection, a cortisone shot can cause some discomfort. As a needle will be inserted into the skin and deeper tissue, it’s normal to experience mild pain.
A numbing spray can help reduce the pain of the shot. At times, doctors use a small needle to prepare the skin before inserting the larger needle. It’s not always possible to avoid this brief pain but it’s a small price to pay for the cortisone’s beneficial effects.
Once the needle is injected, the local anesthetic starts taking effect.
What Should You Expect After the Injection?
It’s important to protect the injection site for a few days following a cortisone shot. Avoid placing excessive force on the joint and ensure the area is well rested. If you’ve had a shot in your leg, for example, avoid standing for long periods whenever possible.
Mild pain may be experienced for several days. Applying an ice pack to the injection site as needed can help ease this pain. It’s normally better to avoid using heat packs or taking hot baths following the procedure, as heat may promote additional inflammation.
Are There Risks or Side Effects?
While complications are rare, some common side effects of a cortisone shot include:
- Facial flushes
- Temporary pain at the injection site
- Lightening of skin pigment around the injection site
- Mood changes
More serious complications are also possible. These include:
- Increased blood sugar levels
- Joint or nerve damage
- Weakening or rupture of the tendon
- High blood pressure
If you experience any serious side effects, contact your doctor for immediate advice.
Should You Get a Cortisone Shot?
Cortisone shots are often seen as a miracle drug, providing long-lasting relief from pain and inflammation. But while this can be the case, if overused or taken while suffering certain medical conditions, it has the potential to do more harm than good.
As with any medication, speak to your doctor about alternative treatment options to ensure a cortisone shot is right for you. If you’re young, it’s highly recommended to try all other treatments and therapies before getting a cortisone shot. If cortisone is required, limit the number of injections as the risk of damage to the joint tissue is high.