What Is a Cortisone Shot?
If you have arthritis, you might have considered a cortisone shot as part of your treatment plan. Also called “corticosteroid,” “steroid shot,” and a human-made version of the hormone cortisol, these shots aren't pain relievers. Cortisone is a type of steroid, a drug that lowers inflammation, which is something that can lead to less pain.
What Is Cortisone Used For?
Cortisone shots can be used to treat inflammation of small areas of the body, like inflammation of a specific joint or tendon. They can also treat inflammation that's widespread throughout the body, like when you have allergic reactions, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, which affects many joints.
Your doctor may prescribe a cortisone shot for:
Cortisone Shot 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 shot won't have certain side effects, like stomach irritation, that can happen with other anti-inflammatory drugs.
Cortisone Shot 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
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
Puffiness of the face
Higher blood pressure
Thinning of the bones (osteoporosis)
Rare but serious damage also can happen 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'll put a numbing lotion or spray on that spot. Then you'll get the shot. You should only feel a little pain. 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.
The effects of your shot can last up to several months before it wears off.
Though it depends on your condition, your doctor will likely limit how often you get a cortisone shot to every 6 weeks and no more than four times a year.
What to Expect After a Cortisone Shot
It's common to feel warm in your chest and face, or see redness around the shot location.
Your doctor's aftercare instructions may include:
An ice pack at the injection site if you feel pain
Showers only (no baths or hot tubs)
Being gentle with the area around the injection for a couple days. For example, if the shot is in your knee, limit exercise with your leg.
If you notice infection, pain, redness, or swelling after 2 days, call your doctor.