How Long Does a Cortisone Shot Last?

Learn about the factors affecting how long cortisone shot pain relief lasts.

When inflammation caused by arthritis makes joints painful and daily activities difficult, a cortisone shot can be an important tool in your treatment plan. This treatment delivers medication directly to the inflamed joint to suppress localized inflammation. However, it is important to understand that cortisone pain relief is temporary, and that cortisone injections do have limitations.

The length of cortisone pain relief varies

“Cortisone shots are used to treat several conditions in joints throughout the body,” explains arthritis specialist Dr. Dane Hansen. “As a result, factors including the condition treated, the joint affected, and the patient’s overall health will have an impact on the effectiveness of the injection. Generally, a cortisone shot can suppress pain for anywhere from six weeks to six months.”

Cortisone provides pain relief by reducing inflammation. If you have pain caused by inflammation, cortisone can make you feel really good. But that feeling is usually temporary because these shots don’t heal the underlying problem.

How many cortisone shots can you have?

There is no medical limit on the number of injections a person can receive. However, there are concerns about repeated cortisone injections in specific areas of the body. Also, individual response to a cortisone shot varies. Some patients do not experience pain relief with cortisone treatments. If the first injection doesn’t provide pain relief, your doctor may try a second injection four to six weeks later. If there’s no improvement after the second injection, a third injection is not recommended.

How long does a cortisone shot work for specific conditions?

Cortisone shots are used broadly and effectively for a range of orthopedic conditions. There are no medical restrictions about the types of conditions that can be treated with these injections. However, because cortisone acts to suppress inflammation, conditions that cause acute inflammation are most likely to respond favorably.

Research tells us more about cortisone benefits and risks

Often, the initial injection delivers the most effective inflammation treatment and pain relief. Studies of specific conditions treated with cortisone give us more information.

  • Tennis elbow. Studies have looked specifically at cortisone treatments for common extensor tendon injury, commonly known as tennis elbow. There is good evidence that a cortisone shot gives people about three months of benefit. After three months, cortisone is not going to be as helpful. More importantly, there is a risk that continued cortisone injections over time might make tennis elbow worse because cortisone can degrade the tendon. In fact, several studies have examined the effect of cortisone on tendon tissue health over a longer time period. One study compared two patient groups. The first group was given cortisone to relieve tennis elbow pain; the second group got no pain treatment. A year later, analysis suggested that the untreated group did better than the group receiving cortisone. Although a single study is not robust enough to be definitive, the data does suggest concerns with doing repeated cortisone shots in the common extensor tendon.
  • Achilles and patella tendon injuries. Research indicates that there is a possibility of tendon damage related to cortisone injections. The Achilles and patella tendons are particularly vulnerable to post-injection weakness caused by cortisone. In some cases, injections have led to traumatic rupture of tendons. For this reason, some doctors avoid using cortisone injections to treat these injuries.

Use of a cortisone shot is also influenced by the age of the patient

Age should be considered before using cortisone injections. Concerns about tissue damage are greater for younger patients because they have young, healthy joint tissues. High school and college athletes are frequently counseled to try other treatments before considering cortisone injections. If they do decide to try a cortisone shot, the number of injections should be limited.

Older patients with arthritic joints or damaged tendons may be treated differently because tissue damage has already occurred. As a result, for older patients with advanced arthritis, cortisone is unlikely to contribute significantly to further damage. In fact, cortisone injections may delay the time before these patients need to consider more invasive treatment such as a joint replacement.

Cortisone shots are one tool in a larger treatment plan

If you are considering cortisone injections, it’s important to remember that the relief they provide is temporary. When injections are repeated, the period of pain relief can become shorter and shorter over time. Frequently, this is not a result of increased tolerance to the medication. Rather, pain becomes harder to control because the underlying condition causes the joint to degrade further. In addition, studies raise concern that repeated injections over time may damage tendons, ligaments, and cartilage at the injection site.

Combining a cortisone shot with physical therapy can provide better long-term relief. Physical therapy helps to stretch and strengthen joint tissues. Lifestyle modifications such as weight loss or footwear changes can also reduce joint stress and improve joint biomechanics. If you are considering a cortisone shot, discuss your goals and medical condition with your doctor. Together, you can determine whether cortisone shots may be a beneficial component in your overall treatment plan.

When to seek treatment for your arthritis

Arthritis doesn’t have to spell the end of an active life. If you are experiencing worrisome symptoms or persistent pain, the renowned arthritis specialists at Summit Orthopedics can help. We work with you to confirm a diagnosis and develop an appropriate conservative treatment plan. If nonsurgical treatments fail to support your lifestyle goals, fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons will consult with you and discuss appropriate surgical options. Summit is home to innovative joint replacement options. Our Vadnais Heights Surgery Center is one of only two surgery centers nationally to receive The Joint Commission’s Advanced Certification for Total Hip and Total Knee Replacement.

Start your journey to healthier joints. Find your arthritis expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MNPlymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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  • Dane Hansen

    Dane Hansen, D.O.

    “Arthritis patients have high expectations for their activity level. With advanced training in minimally invasive surgical techniques and quick-recovery joint replacement, I strive to help my patients return to their fully active lifestyle as quickly as possible.”

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