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Considering a Corticosteroid Shot for Pain? Here’s What You Need to Know

Wednesday, September 14, 2022 9:53 AM

By Isabelle Banin

Closeup shot of a sporty man suffering with knee pain while exercising outdoorsIt’s difficult to enjoy the hobbies you love, or even just get through the day, when you are in pain. Unfortunately, over-the-counter medications are not always enough. 

If your pain continues to make daily functioning a struggle, you may need to consider stronger, longer-lasting options. One of the more popular of these options are corticosteroid injections, also known as cortisone shots. 

Cortisone shots decrease inflammation in the target area, often bringing some pain relief that can last up to months. Generally, your doctor will only recommend a cortisone shot for appropriate conditions if your pain is debilitating or not improving with more conservative pain management methods (i.e., physical therapy, resting the injured area, over the counter pain medication). 

Asheesh Bedi, M.D., Director of the Comprehensive Sports Medicine and Joint Preservation Program at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute, emphasizes that cortisone shots should not be used indiscriminately to mask pain. 

“Cortisone shots are best used when the pain relief they provide aids the patient in their rehabilitation and recovery,” Dr. Bedi says.

After getting an injection, some people may feel increased pain and mild joint swelling for a few days. This affect is generally a result of the numbing agent in the shot wearing off. 

Here, Dr. Bedi gives his insight into cortisone injections:

  • It’s hard to predict how much cortisone injections will benefit you, but using them for the correct conditions and with clear indications help to increase the likelihood of success.  Most side effects can be avoided if you tell your doctor all of your medical history, including allergic reactions, any recent or upcoming vaccinations, history of depression, any current infections and any substances you are taking (including supplements, herbal remedies and medications).
  • Since cortisone injections can have some adverse effects on soft tissues when used repetitively, it is not recommended to have multiple injections too frequently. Most use them once or twice a year, and if they are needed more frequently, consult with your physician. It’s also possible for cortisone injections to impact your immune system. Make sure to tell your doctor if you are exposed to diseases like chickenpox and measles, or if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms.
  • A cortisone shot is not an alternative to surgery. They can be used to offer some temporary relief, but conditions appropriate for surgical repair are still best addressed with a definitive and long-term solution. At NorthShore, our surgical providers are experts at guiding patients in the right direction based on their individual needs.

The NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute provides personalized treatment plans for comprehensive musculoskeletal care. At the Institute, all injections are guided with ultrasound, which increases precision and reduces the chances of side effects. The Institute also includes specialized departments, such as Sports Medicine and the Integrated Pain Center.