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Do Cortisone Injections Work?

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Updated January 06, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Do Cortisone Injections Work?
Answer: For some people, yes. But usually only as a short-term solution.

Corticosteroids such as cortisone and hydrocortisone are often used to treat flare-ups of conditions that cause swelling in the joints or soft tissues, such as arthritis or tendonitis. Many studies have shown benefits of short-term use of corticosteroid injections, such as decreased pain and increased range of motion.

Should I Have a Cortisone Injection?

If your doctor feels a cortisone injection will benefit you, than it isn’t a bad idea to give it a try. Keep in mind, however, that the immediate effects of decreased pain and increased range of motion are not a permanent fix. It can be tempting to think you are “fixed” after a cortisone injection, however it is a short-term solution.

In my experience as a therapist, some of the best results from cortisone injections happen when they are combined with an exercise program. An exercise program, provided by your doctor or a physical therapist, can help you maintain that joint mobility after the cortisone effects wear off. Of course, many people may achieve these same results by simply taking a stronger NSAID or anti-inflammatory medication, and seeing a physical therapist.

There is not a great deal of research involving combining cortisone with physical therapy, or the benefits of a cortisone injection over traditional painkillers or other anti-inflammatories. Therefore, if you are considering this approach, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor at length regarding the pros and cons of having a cortisone injection over another type of treatment.

Sources:

Buchbinder Rachelle, Green Sally, Youd Joanne M. Corticosteroid Injections for Shoulder Pain. Cochrane Library, 2003. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd

DailyMed Current Medical Information, National Institutes of Health. Hydrocortisone Tablet. Accessed 11/21/09. http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=8739

Kullenberg Björn, Runesson Ronny, Tuvhag Richard et al. Intraarticular Corticosteroid Injection: Pain Relief in Osteoarthritis of the Hip? Journal of Rheumatology. 2004, 31(11) pp. 2265-2268

Medline Plus. Hydrocortisone Injection. Accessed 11/21/09. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682871.html

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