Cortisone Injection (Corticosteroid Injection)
of Soft Tissues and Joints

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Corticosteroid (cortisone) injection of joints and soft tissue facts

  • Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Cortisone injections can offer fast-acting relief of inflamed joints, tendons, and bursa.
  • Complications are rare but may include infection and bleeding.
  • When administered by an expert, cortisone injections offer significant pain relief with only minimal discomfort.

What are corticosteroids?

Corticosteroids are a class of medications that are related to cortisone, a steroid. Medications of this class powerfully reduce inflammation. They are used to reduce the inflammation caused by a variety of diseases. Cortisone is one type of corticosteroid. For the purpose of this review, "cortisone" is used interchangeably with "corticosteroid."

Corticosteroids can be taken by mouth, inhaled, applied to the skin, given intravenously (into a vein), or injected into the tissues of the body. Examples of corticosteroids include prednisone and prednisolone (given by mouth), methylprednisolone sodium succinate injection (Solu-Medrol) (given intravenously), as well as triamcinolone (Kenalog), betamethasone (Celestone), methylprednisolone (Depo-Medrol), and others (given by injection into body tissues). This article describes the role of cortisone injections into the soft tissues and joints.

Is a cortisone injection merely a pain reliever or temporary remedy?

Corticosteroids are not pain relievers. They reduce inflammation. When corticosteroids relieve pain, it is because they have reduced inflammation.

While the inflammation for which corticosteroids are given can recur, corticosteroid injections can provide months to years of relief when used properly. These injections also can cure diseases (permanently resolve them) when the problem is tissue inflammation localized to a small area, such as bursitis and tendonitis. They can also cure certain forms of skin inflammation.

For what conditions are cortisone injections used?

Cortisone injections can be used to treat the inflammation of small areas of the body (local injections), or they can be used to treat inflammation that is widespread throughout the body (systemic injections). Examples of conditions for which local cortisone injections are used include inflammation of a bursa (bursitis of the hip, knee, elbow, or shoulder), a tendon (tendinitis such as tennis elbow), and a joint (arthritis). Knee osteoarthritis, hip bursitis, painful foot conditions such as plantar fasciitis, rotator cuff tendinitis, and many other conditions may be treated with cortisone injections. Injections of cortisone and an anesthetic such as lidocaine are sometimes used to confirm a diagnosis. For example, if pain in the buttock and groin improves after a cortisone injection in the hip, the pain is caused by hip arthritis rather than arthritis in the low back. Epidural injections in the lumbar spine (lumbar epidural) are cortisone injections inserted into a specific location in the spinal canal of the low back by a specialist under X-ray guidance (fluoroscopy). These injections may help relieve back pain or sciatica. Systemic corticosteroid injections are used for more widespread conditions affecting many joints or the skin, such as allergic reactions, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/17/2014

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