Cortisone Injections Into Joints Can Help or Harm
By Gabe Mirkin, M.D.
Doctors often inject cortisone-type medications into painful
damaged joints and tendons. Single injections can relieve pain
and swelling and appear to be safe, but repeated injections can
damage joints and delay healing.
Scientists in Greece injected cortisone-type drugs repeatedly
into the joints of rabbits and showed that they damage
cartilage. A paper in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery
shows that the injecting cortisone-type medications repeatedly
into injured tendons and ligaments, delays healing and weakens
In light of these findings, you would think that doctors would
stop injecting joints and tendons. However, people can be
crippled by arthritis and a single injection into a damaged knee
joint can allow an arthritic to walk without pain. The same
principle applies to athletes and exercisers, who can develop
pain in their tendons, muscles, fascia and ligaments from
injuries. When injuries heal in a few days, no treatment is
indicated, but sometimes they persist for months to cause pain,
particularly in the fascia on the bottom or back of the heel, in
the large tendon in the back of the lower leg, or in the tendons
on the elbows or shoulders. Cortisone-type drugs reduce swelling
and lessen pain and can allow an athlete or exerciser to get
back to sports, but cortisone injections weaken the tendons for
more than 84 days.
If you suffer chronic pain in the tendons, muscles, ligaments or
fascia, check with your doctor to see if you have a chronic
disease causing it, such as arthritis or hepatitis. The non-steroidals
that are usually prescribed block pain but do not help tissue to
heal. Your doctor may prescribe light rehabilitation exercises.
If you receive a cortisone-type injection, make sure that you
protect that area from hard exercise for at least two months
after you receive the injection.