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Cortisone & cortisone injections explained

Cortisone injections are commonly used to treat a variety of joint and tendon problems. This article explains what cortisone is and how the injections work...

How do cortisone injections work?

cortisone injectionCortisone is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication that occurs naturally in the body to controls and assists normal body functions. When therapists use cortisone to treat tendonitis, bursitis, and arthritis it acts as a potent local anti-inflammatory drug. Cortisone is useful in suppressing inflammation in the short term, and in the long term, dissolving scar tissue, stabilizing the body's defenses, speeding the healing process, and is very effective in causing certain cysts to disappear.

Cortisone is not directly a pain relieving medication, as it only treats the cause or site of inflammation. Your pain is decreased by a cortisone treatment because the inflammation is diminished and this is turn reduces the pain. By injecting the cortisone into a particular area of inflammation, very high concentrations of the medication can be given while keeping potential side-effects to a minimum.

What is cortisone?

Cortisone is a type of steroid that is produced naturally by a gland in your body called the adrenal gland. Cortisone is released from the adrenal gland when your body is under stress, and natural cortisone is released into the blood stream and is relatively short-acting. The absence of cortisone in the body is called Addison's Disease.

Injectible cortisone is synthetically produced but is a close derivative of your body's natural product. The most significant differences are that synthetic cortisone is not injected into the blood stream, but into a particular area of inflammation. Also, the synthetic cortisone is designed to act more potently and for a longer period of time (days instead of minutes).

Are there side effects to a cortisone injection?

cortisoneUnfortunately yes. Probably the most common side-effect is a 'cortisone flare,' a condition where the injected cortisone crystalizes and can cause a brief period of pain worse than before the shot. This usually lasts a day or two and is best treated by icing the injected area.

Another common side-effect is whitening of the skin where the injection is given. This is only a concern in people with darker skin, and is not harmful, but patients should be aware of this.

Other side-effects of cortisone injections, although rare, can be quite serious. The most concerning is infection, especially if the injection is given into a joint. The best prevention is careful injection technique, with sterilization of the skin using iodine and/or alcohol.

Also, patients with diabetes may have a transient increase in their blood sugar which they should watch for closely. Because cortisone is a naturally occurring substance, true allergic responses to the injected substance do not occur. However, it is possible to be allergic to other aspects of the injection, most commonly the betadine many physicians use to sterilize the skin.

To find out more about cortisone, cortisone injections, of other questions please contact us!


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