Key Points About Steroid Injections (Corticosteroid Injections)

  • A steroid injection is a therapy used to treat pain and joint inflammation.
  • Before a steroid injection, inform your doctor of all medications you are taking and stop taking medicines noted by your provider at the specified time.
  • The injection consists of corticosteroid medication, which will relieve pain and inflammation as well as an anesthesia to provide short-term pain relief.
  • A steroid injection can relieve pain for as long as six months. 

Steroid injections, also commonly referred to as a cortisone injection or corticosteroid injections, help reduce joint inflammation and ease joint pain.

Your doctor may recommend steroid injections if you are experiencing pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, bursitis, gout, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, or other types of arthritis.

A cortisone injection is typically one element in a more extensive treatment plan. It is often used alongside medications and physical therapy.

Candidates for a Steroid Injection (Corticosteroid Injection)

Your doctor will recommend a corticosteroid injection to treat pain associated with an orthopedic condition such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Bursitis
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tendinitis
  • Psoriatic arthritis or reactive arthritis.

A steroid injection generally will relieve pain for six weeks to 6 months. Pain relief that comes from a steroid injection will allow you to:

Treat arthritis, such as a gout flare-up.

Perform exercises from physical therapy. The steroid injection will relieve the pain long enough for you to increase your strength so that when the injection wears off, your joints will be healthier.

Rest the inflamed area. If the rest is recommended in your treatment protocol, a steroid injection will relieve pain so you can rest the affected joint.

Delay surgery. A steroid injection can relieve pain so you can postpone surgical treatments, such as a joint replacement.

Make a diagnosis. If your doctor needs more information to diagnose the underlying cause of your pain, he or she may recommend a cortisone shot. Typically, a cortisone shot may be used to diagnose pain in the hip or shoulder joints. If the injection relieves the pain in the affected area, your doctor can narrow down the diagnosis. If the injection does not relieve the pain, your doctor will need to evaluate what is causing your pain.

Risks Associated with Steroid Injections (Corticosteroid Injections)

While steroid injections are generally safe, your risk of complications increases with repeated use and larger doses.

Complications associated with steroid injections include:

  • Damage to cartilage.
  • Bone damage.
  • Joint infection.
  • Nerve damage.
  • Tendon rupture.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Pain and inflammation in the joint (temporary).
  • Lightening around the injection site.
  • Increase in blood sugar (temporary).

Preparation for Steroid Injections (Corticosteroid Injections)

A few days before your steroid injection, your doctor will instruct you to stop taking medications such as blood thinners and dietary supplements. 

If you develop a temperature of 100.4 F or greater in the two weeks before surgery, inform your doctor.

What to Expect During a Steroid Injection (Corticosteroid Injection)?

A steroid injection can be given in the clinic setting, so you will go home the day of the injection.

Your doctor or care team will clean the area around the injection and spray an anesthetic spray to numb the affected area.

Your doctor may use an ultrasound or X-ray to watch the needle moving into the body and ensure it is going into the correct spot. As the medication is injected, you may feel pressure. 

The injection includes corticosteroid medication, which will relieve pain and inflammation as well as an anesthetic to provide short-term pain relief.

Duration of Steroid Injections (Corticosteroid Injections) Treatment Recovery

You may experience a pain flare for a day or two after the infection. After this period, your pain should decrease, and your pain relief should last for up to six months.

After each cortisone injection, your doctor may recommend:

  • Avoid heavy lifting or strenuous activity in the days after the injection.
  • Apply ice to the injection site.
  • If you have signs of infection, such as pain, redness, or swelling that last more than 48 hours, call your doctor.
  • Do not use a bathtub or hot tub for 48 hours after surgery.

Your doctor will determine the appropriate timing of your cortisone injections. Generally, you should not get shots more than every six weeks and more than three to four times a year.