If the question is "Should I get a cortisone shot?" the answer is "It depends." Frustrating, right?
Cortisone shots (also known as steroid injections) can be a lifesaver, allowing patients to take part in everyday activities without pain. But there are also drawbacks to this treatment.
The biggest obstacle is that cortisone shots, particularly multiple shots to the same area, might accelerate the degeneration of soft tissue, which could make joint degeneration worse in the long term.
Cortisone shots can be given in almost any joint to relieve inflammation and the pain associated with it. A joint affected by osteoarthritis has lost cartilage, which results in joint friction and can lead to inflammation. Sometimes, this joint inflammation causes pain without causing a lot of visible swelling and redness.
In these cases, cortisone shots are often the first medical intervention recommended by doctors, after treatments such as rest and medications haven't sufficiently relieved pain. Cortisone shots are typically an elective treatment, meaning it's up to you to decide whether or not to get one.
If pain is preventing you from doing everyday activities, going to work, exercising, or is affecting your overall health and well-being, a cortisone shot may be worth considering. They are especially helpful if the pain relief they offer can jump start your efforts to get regular exercise or physical therapy that was too painful prior to your injection.
The pain and inflammation relief of a cortisone injection can last anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months. However, because of its possible destructive effects, injections need to be spaced 4 to 6 weeks apart and you shouldn't get more than 4 injections per year in the same location.
Further complicating matters, insurance plans may cover a cortisone injection but may not pay for other types of potentially pain-relieving injections that don't cause tissue damage, such as viscosupplementation or PRP injections. Ideally, you should be making treatment decisions based on what is best for you, not what is covered by insurance.
Osteoarthritis requires ongoing pain management that may include everything from injections to activity modifications, exercise, stretching, and even diet. A cortisone shot should just be one part of a larger treatment plan. If you do decide to get a cortisone shot, talk to your doctor about how it will fit into your overall treatment plan.