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What’s the deal with cortisone shots? The pros and cons

What's the deal with cortisone shots?There are few things worse for a runner than being injured – especially when you get hurt while training for a big race.

Actually, scratch that.

What’s worse is when you seek treatment for an injury – maybe you get fitted for new shoes, take time off from running, and even get physical therapy – but it doesn’t get better.

Then one of your running buddies suggests cortisone shots and you’re all ears.

What are cortisone shots?
Cortisone (a type of steroid) is a powerful drug that reduces inflammation. Cortisone is given by a shot to treat a small area of the body, either soft tissues or joints. Cortisone is used to treat conditions such arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis. When cortisone works right, the inflammation – and the pain that is caused by the inflammation – goes away quickly.

The pros and cons of cortisone shots

Pros of cortisone injections

  • Cortisone shots are effective. When cortisone shots work, they work really well. The shot can fully take away the inflammation in your injured body part, which leads to effective pain relief. This can be a Godsend if you have a big race on the horizon.
  • Cortisone injections work fast. You may feel less pain almost instantly after the injection, and the pain may continue to lessen over the next two days.

Cons of cortisone shots

  • Cortisone shots don’t treat the cause of the problem. The shot just makes your injury feel better, but it doesn’t fix what caused you to get hurt in the first place. For instance, if you have knee pain, cortisone may ease the discomfort, allowing you to feel fine when you run. But that knee injury may have stemmed from IT band tightness, which came from over-training. If you don’t treat the source of the injury, that knee pain is going to come back more times than not.
  • Cortisone is only a short-term treatment. Cortisone doesn’t work forever. The pain relief will wear off after a few weeks or months, and you may be back at square one.
  • Cortisone could make your injury worse. Since the drug masks pain, you may run through an injury, not aware that you’re causing further damage. By the time the cortisone wears off, you may be in worse shape than you were before you received it.
  • Cortisone injections come with side effects. The drug eats away at cartilage. If you use cortisone repeatedly, you risk long-term damage. Cortisone also weakens tendons, which makes them more vulnerable to rupturing. The drug also carries the risk of nerve damage. These reasons are why many doctors limit how often you can receive cortisone shots. The Mayo Clinic says not to get cortisone shots more often than once every six weeks, and no more than three or four per year.
  • Cortisone shots don’t always work. Cortisone won’t work for every injury, so getting the shot is often a gamble.

What’s your experience with cortisone shots?

Written by Jen Matz.

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