Cortisone For Pain Relief

by Gavin Morrison on December 8, 2014

Many physical therapists in Boise work with patients who have had cortisone shots for back pain relief.

Cortisone is a steroid that is often used to alleviate inflammation. Many painful conditions in the spine and other joints such as shoulders, knees and elbows are directly related to inflammation. When inflammation is suspected as the cause of one’s pain cortisone may be given by a physician through an injection into the painful joint or around the inflamed tendon or ligament.


In the case of back pain cortisone is given through epidural injections into spine, around the spinal joints and nerves. Spinal surgeons or a physiatrist, non-surgical pain specialist, will give epidural injections outpatient surgery center. The procedure is only done after an MRI or bone scan is used to identify a specific area of the spine that is the most likely the source of pain. The surgeon uses a fluoroscope, (real time x-ray) to guide a long needle into the inflamed area. Sometimes dye that can be seen on x-ray is injected into the spine before the cortisone, in order to confirm the correct placement of the needle. Once the needle is properly placed the physician injects cortisone and an anesthetic into the area.

In the case of joints such as shoulders and knees the physician guides the needle into the joint or around the tendon by hand (no fluoroscope). The injection of this extra fluid into the joint or tendon space can sometimes be irritating for up to 24 hours. Cortisone injections can take up to a week to deliver full relief. It is important to have a skilled orthopedic physician or surgeon perform the injection in order to ensure effectiveness of the treatment and to minimize side effects of the shot.


Cortisone injections can take up to 6 days to become fully effective.

In many cases however cortisone injections are a symptomatic method of treatment, meaning that the cortisone primarily treats the symptoms of the condition without addressing the underlying cause. However they are still valuable because they can be very effective at reducing pain, enabling patients to participate in physical therapy that is intended to address the under lying cause of the pain and inflammation. In cases where a tendon, such as rotator cuff is inflamed due to a single incident then the Cortisone may be all a patient needs to get rid of their pain for good.

After a cortisone shot the injection site is to be kept clean and dry for up to 24 hours, However ice may be needed to address any post injection soreness. The recovery time for epidural injections usually ranges 24 to 48 hours. The patient can return home from this outpatient procedure immediately. Physicians will only administer three cortisone injections per year. If used too frequently, the cortisone will begin to degrade both ligaments and soft tissues around the joint.


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