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Cortisone Injection: Composition, Uses, and Side-Effects

Joint pain usually worsens with age. Joint pain can significantly affect your quality of life and daily activities without timely medical intervention. Administering a cortisone injection can significantly alleviate pain and inflammation. This is a well-established treatment procedure for joint conditions.

Administering the cortisone injection

The cortisone injection is administered directly to the pain’s exact site, making it highly effective. Using imaging guidance (like an ultrasound) while doing these injections increases accuracy. The medicine takes a little time to exert its effect upon the joint. The effect is sometimes described as miraculous or life-changing, as the pain and swelling can significantly diminish.

Composition of a cortisone injection

A cortisone injection is a form of corticosteroid. The latter is a synthetically manufactured drug that resembles cortisol, a naturally produced hormone in the human body by the adrenal glands. They are usually injected into the joints to relieve the patient’s pain. The effect of the corticosteroids usually lasts for months.

The cortisol hormone produced in the human body is naturally anti-inflammatory. Corticosteroids mimic this capability, attacking the inflamed areas of the body. Corticosteroids are commonly referred to as ‘steroids’. This is not to be confused with the anabolic steroids many athletes take as performance-enhancing drugs. Intra-articular Corticosteroids injections (injections into the joints) are meant to treat joint pain and inflammation.

Conditions treated with cortisone injections

  • Arthritis: Getting a cortisone shot is a good pain-relief measure. Arthritis is a leading cause of morbidity among the elderly due to joint pain, swelling and stiffness. The symptoms can progress with time. There are two common types of arthritis – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease in which the immune cells attack the tissue lining of the joints, causing inflammation and, eventually, disruption.
  • Tennis elbow: Lateral epicondylitis or tennis elbow happens due to inflammation of the extensor tendons that attach to the outer aspect of the elbow. This is a common condition among tennis players and other sports where arms are extensively used. The tendons that join the forearm muscles to the elbow come under severe strain due to constant movement. This may lead to inflammation or, in more severe cases, a tear in the tendon. The condition can be very painful and limiting to sports and daily activities. Corticosteroids or platelets-rich plasma (PRP) injections are the preferred treatment methods for tendinosis and small tears.
  • Rotator cuff pain: The rotator cuff is a group of tendons that form a cuff of tissue completely surrounding the shoulder joint. They play a vital role in shoulder movement and balance. Rotator cuff pain is common in those who do movements that involve lifting the shoulders for prolonged periods of time (painters, mechanics, and carpenters). Rotator cuff inflammation or injury can also be seen due to trauma or sports or can happen gradually without a specific history. The pain can be unbearable and can affect life quality and sleep. Ultrasound is an excellent test to assess for rotator cuff injury. The doctor would recommend you appropriate treatment with pain relief tablets and physiotherapy. Administration of corticosteroids can be considered in resistant cases.
  • Osteoarthritis of the hip: A common affliction among the elderly is osteoarthritis causing pain in the hip region. In this condition, the cartilage covering the hip bone surface gradually wears away, and there is increased friction between the bones. This causes pain, stiffness and sometimes immobility. Patients can be treated with analgesics or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). If patients don’t respond well to such therapies, a steroid joint injection can be a suitable treatment option.
  • Trochanteric bursitis: Lateral hip pain (pain at the outside of the hip) is often related to trochanteric bursitis. This condition is characterised by inflammation of the trochanteric bursa. A bursa is a small fluid-filled sac that reduces friction between anatomical structures, such as a bone and a tendon. Bursitis occurs when increased stress upon the bursa, leading to thickening and fluid accumulation. The condition is more common in the elderly and in females. If conservative management is not helping, a corticosteroid injection into the bursa can be very helpful.

Side effects of cortisone injection

Corticosteroids are widely used for managing pain from arthritis. Even though corticosteroids are considered relatively safe, they are not completely free of side effects. Cortisone flare is a common side effect of such injections. The cortisone can initially cause pain and irritation to the tissues. This usually lasts for one or two days but can persist longer. Other side effects include elevated blood sugar and allergic reaction. Today, corticosteroid injection is a fast-acting, effective drug for managing severe flare-ups of arthritic pain.


Arthritis, tennis elbow, rotator cuff pain in the shoulder, and trochanteric bursitis are common joint problems affecting people of all ages. A steroid joint injection can be considered part of the management plan for all these conditions to reduce inflammation and provide quick pain relief.


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