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Arthritis Health Center

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Do I Need a Cortisone Shot?

If you have arthritis, you may have considered a cortisone shot as part of your treatment plan. These shots are not pain relievers. Cortisone is a type of steroid, a drug that lowers inflammation, which is something that can lead to less pain.

Who gets cortisone shots?

Cortisone injections can be used to treat inflammation of small areas of the body, such as inflammation of a specific joint or tendon. They can also treat inflammation that is widespread throughout the body, such as with allergic reactions, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, which affects many joints.

What are the advantages?

You can get cortisone shots at your doctor’s office. They offer quick relief for inflammation that’s just in one part of your body -- for instance, a knee or elbow affected by arthritis.

A single injection can avoid certain side effects, notably stomach irritation, that can happen with other anti-inflammation drugs.

What are the disadvantages and side effects?

Short-term side effects are rare, but they can include the following:

  • Shrinkage and lightening of the color of the skin where you get the shot
  • Infection
  • Bleeding from broken blood vessels in the skin or muscle
  • Soreness where you get the shot
  • Aggravation of inflammation in the area injected because of reactions to the medication (post injection flare)

Tendons can be weakened by corticosteroid injections, and tendon ruptures have been reported.

If you have diabetes, cortisone injections can raise your blood sugar. If you have an infection, these shots can make it harder to recover. You may not be able to get this treatment if you have problems with blood clotting.

Long-term side effects depend on the dose and how often you get this treatment. With higher doses and frequent shots, potential side effects include:

  • Thinning of the skin
  • Easy bruising 
  • Weight gain
  • Puffiness of the face
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Cataract formation
  • Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)

Rare but serious damage to the bones of the large joints (called “avascular necrosis”).

What happens when you get an injection?

The doctor, nurse, or other health professional will use an alcohol or iodine-based cleaning solution to clean the area of your skin where you’ll get the shot. After that, they will put a numbing lotion or spray on that spot. Then you’ll get the shot. Afterward, you’ll wear a bandage over the injection site.

If the shot is going into a joint that has too much fluid, your doctor will first use a separate syringe and needle to draw out the extra fluid.

Does it hurt?

When an expert does it, you should only feel a little pain.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on August 14, 2015

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