The Basics Behind Cortisone – How Often Can You Get a Cortisone Shot?

Chronic joint pain is never a laughing matter. Whether it’s the result of an injury, various types of arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, or any other reason, you should deal with it as soon as you can. Getting a cortisone shot can help you immensely with this very issue.

How often can you get a cortisone shot? You should know that even though cortisone shots are quite beneficial, there is a limit to them. Namely, you might not want to get a cortisone shot more than three or four times a year.

Below you can learn more about the cortisone shot itself, how it works, who should and should not get one, and why there is a limit to it in the first place.

Why Get a Cortisone Shot?

Cortisone shots lessen inflammation in the specific parts of your body where you experience chronic pain. Most often, this would be in your joints, like your ankle, shoulder, wrists, or in your spine or hip. However, know that cortisone is not a painkiller (a drug that reduces your sensitivity to pain). It reduces inflammation, which in turn leads to a decrease in pain.

Chronic pain can severely hinder and lessen your quality of life. It ruins your mood, it saps your energy levels, and it may even lead to depression. Namely, chronic pain causes stress.

When your brain registers pain, it activates your fight or flight response. It essentially prepares you to fight whatever is causing you this pain. Unfortunately, it can’t really do much on its own.

Here are some of the most common reasons someone would need a cortisone shot:

  • Inflammatory arthritis in adults – This is a group of diseases which cause the joints or connective tissue to be inflamed. The most common is rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease which confuses your autoimmune system into attacking your joints as if they’re threats to your body. Almost one-third of people suffering from psoriasis, a skin condition which causes skin rashes and nail damage, also have psoriatic arthritis. Lupus is another autoimmune disease which can target not only the kidney, skin, and blood but also joints.
  • Inflammatory arthritis in children – Arthritis is often connected with age, but children can suffer from it too. The most common type of arthritis in children is juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Again, it is an autoimmune disease which makes the immune system attack body tissue and causes inflammation in various parts, including joints.
  • Tendinitis  –  Is an inflammation of the tendons. It causes weakness and pain around the joints. It can affect any tendon, but it is most common in knees, elbows, shoulders, and wrists.
  • Other conditions –  Such as gout, plantar fasciitis, and bursitis.

How Do They Work?

You may be wondering exactly what is cortisone and how does it work. Well, cortisone is a corticosteroid closely related to the steroid hormone cortisol. Cortisol is produced naturally in the adrenal gland. It is then released into your bloodstream for dealing with stress. On the other hand, the cortisone used in medical treatment is mostly synthetic.

The other difference between cortisol and cortisone is that cortisol can have a much stronger effect. This hormone can alter the way you feel pain.

As for the synthetic version, a doctor will inject cortisone into the painful area (most likely your joints). Then, the cortisol within the chosen area will prevent collagen production. This will relax the nerves in your targeted joint and soothe the inflammation you may have in that area. This makes the problem area less painful.

How Effective Are They?

You should know that cortisone shots have been used for some time now and they are quite effective. Once you get a cortisone shot, you can usually expect a flare-up in inflammation and pain for a maximum of two days.

After that, some may experience pain relief right away, while for others it may take up to a week. The reason behind this is that there may be other factors that are causing the pain.

Once the inflammation begins to subside, you can expect the pain to decrease drastically. This pain relief might last up to a couple of months.

How Often Can You Get Cortisone Shots?

Now, you may be asking: how often can you get a cortisone shot? The rule of thumb is that you should wait at least six weeks before the next cortisone shot. However, the usual recommendation is three to four times a year, just to be safe.

The reasons are multiple, besides the known side effects of corticosteroid, which are similar for oral medications and injectables. First, the pain relief may diminish over time if you get it too often. This can also lead to joint damage, as well as damage to the surrounding tissue around the injection site.

If you use cortisone for tendonitis or lessening tendon pain in general, you may end up with weaker tendons. Since tendons rely on their tensile strength to be useful, they need a certain amount of collagen within them. Cortisol will reduce the production of collagen within these tendons, making them weaker.

Are There any Side Effects?

Cortisone injections are very safe, and if administered properly, should have no serious long-term consequences. However, the following side effects have been reported:

  • Cortisone flare-up – this occurs after a cortisone injection. This medication crystallizes within your body, which can lead to pain and inflammation that is just as bad or worse than the original inflammation. However, it usually lasts no more than two days and can be mitigated with ice packs and rest.
  • Blood sugar elevation – Corticosteroids increase blood sugar levels. This means people who have diabetes will need to be extra careful.
  • Allergic reactions – while extremely rare, any allergic reaction must be reported to a doctor immediately. Cortisone allergic reactions are rare, and more often a reaction may occur due to the local anesthetic used.
  • Discoloration of the skin – the skin around the injection site may become somewhat lighter. This is rarely permanent and is not dangerous at all.

Final Words

There is no need to suffer chronic pain every day, which can greatly diminish your quality of life. If you’re an athlete, a senior citizen, a manual laborer, or just, in general, a person who deals with chronic pain, you may want to talk to your doctor about a cortisone shot.