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Why Would I Need a Cortisone Shot?

   When pain from injuries like shoulder bursitis, arthritis, tennis elbow, or carpal tunnel syndrome impact daily life, a cortisone shot could be prescribed. But what is cortisone and how does it work?

Cortisone is a type of steroid that is produced naturally by the adrenal gland and is released when the body is under stress. When natural cortisone is released into the blood stream it is relatively short-acting. However, a cortisone injection is just the opposite.

Synthetic cortisone, which closely resembles natural cortisone, is more potent and will last longer. It is used as the substance for the injection. A cortisone shot is injected into the area of discomfort that is a result of inflammation.

Confused? Don’t be. Cortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication, not a pain reliever. Pain diminishes when inflammation decreases. Cortisone injections can begin working within a matter of hours and the effects can last up to several weeks.

Inflammation is an underlying problem of bursitis, arthritis, trigger finger, tennis elbow, and carpal tunnel syndrome, making them all candidates for cortisone shots. The shot itself can be slightly painful, especially when applied to a joint, although when administered with skilled hands it is usually tolerated well. Numbing medication, such as Lidocaine or Marcaine, are often injected with the cortisone to provide temporary relief, in addition, topical anesthetics can help numb the skin in the injected area, too.

Some side effects of the cortisone shot exist but are not common. Below are a few examples.

Cortisone Flare – A condition in which the injected cortisone crystallizes and causes a brief period of pain that is reported to be worse than before the shot. This flare typically lasts a day or two and is best treated by icing the injected area.

Skin pigment changes – Patients with darker skin may experience a lightening in skin color around the injection site. This is not harmful.

Infection – When physicians must break skin to administer a treatment, there is always risk of infection. However, to minimize this risk, your skin will be sterilized by the physician.

If you have questions about cortisone shots, or would like to know more, contact the staff at Southern Orthopaedic Specialists at 770-953-6929.

September 2008

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