When do you need a cortisone shot? Benefits, risks and uses.

Find out which painful conditions respond to a cortisone shot, what the risks are and what to expect from Emory Healthcare.If you’re living with arthritis or some other painful condition, you may be considering a cortisone shot — and for good reason. Cortisone injection has a long record of safety when used appropriately and can often bring quick and dramatic relief.

You may also have concerns. We’ve all read about the risks of “performance-enhancing” steroids. But cortisone isn’t that kind of steroid. It’s an anti-inflammatory drug that’s a lot like cortisol, a hormone your body produces.

Doctors can inject cortisone directly into a joint or other area. Some conditions that often respond well include:

  • Arthritis
  • Shoulder bursitis
  • Trigger finger
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Plantar fasciitis and other foot conditions

Relief can begin in a day or two and last for weeks or longer. The cortisone shot can be slightly painful, but most people find relief of their symptoms far outweighs any initial discomfort.

What are the risks of a cortisone shot?

One possible complication is “cortisone flare,” in which cortisone forms tiny crystals and irritates surrounding tissue. It usually subsides in a day or two.

Rarer complications can include infection, nerve damage, thinning of nearby bone or cartilage, or a temporary increase in blood sugar. You usually shouldn’t get cortisone shots more than three or four times a year, at least six weeks apart.

“Cortisone injections, used wisely, can be a vital part of treatment for many conditions,” said Dr. Lee Kneer, sports medicine specialist and assistant professor at Emory. “Many patients are surprised at how much they can help.”

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