Cortisone Shot Side Effects

Possible Complications of a Cortisone Shot

injection shot shoulder
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Cortisone injections are used for treating many orthopedic problems including arthritis, tendonitis and bursitis. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication, not a pain-killer. However, by reducing inflammation, pain often subsides. Cortisone injections are very safe to perform. Side effects tend to be rare and minor. However, there are a few potential side effects of a cortisone injection that patients should know about.

In addition, doctors often are not keenly aware of the side effects of cortisone as these tend to be limited (they resolve in a short amount of time) and your doctor may not see these effects as they tend to occur long after the patient has left the office. Many patients feel as though their doctor doesn't care about these sometimes significant consequences of cortisone. Therefore, it's important that patients be aware of the possible side-effects of any medication they take, and inform their doctor if these occur.

Systemic Side Effects

Systemic side effects occur as a result of a small amount of the cortisone entering the bloodstream and affecting your entire body, not just the location where the cortisone was given.

Systemic side effects of a local injection of cortisone are rare and usually minor. Unlike taking oral steroids, or having cortisone injected directly into the bloodstream, only a small amount of a targeted injection is absorbed by the body.

And since the body actually produces cortisone naturally, most people do not experience systemic effects. Those who do have symptoms of something may experience the following problems:

  • Elevated Blood Sugar
    The most common systemic reaction is seen in diabetic patients. Patients with diabetes should carefully monitor their blood sugar as cortisone can cause a temporary rise in their blood glucose levels. Patients taking insulin should be especially careful, checking their blood sugar often and adjusting the insulin doses, if necessary. If the blood sugar rises more than anticipated, you should contact the physician who manages your diabetes to see if additional treatment is necessary.
  • Facial Flushing
    Patients may experience flushing sensation and redness of their face. This reaction is more common in women and is seen in up to 15 percent of patients who receive a cortisone shot. This can begin within a few hours of the injection and may last for a few days. Many doctors are unaware of how common this reaction is, and some may not appreciate how this can be upsetting to patients. The good news, is that these symptoms do spontaneously resolve, but it may make patients think twice before having another shot.

Local Side Effects

Local side effects are those that are only experienced in the one area of the body where the injection occurred. The local side effects of a cortisone injection are also rare, but again, they do occur and you should know what to do if they happen to you!

  • Pain and ​Cortisone Flare Reaction
    Some patients have discomfort after the injection and may experience an increase in pain 24 to 48 hours after being treated. This usually subsides quickly and can be aided with an ice pack and anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Infection
    Whenever there is a break in the skin, like when a needle is used to administer cortisone, there is a chance of infection. Your doctor will sterilize the skin to minimize the risk of infection.
  • Skin Pigment Changes
    Patients with darker skin should also be aware that cortisone may cause the skin around the injection site to lighten. This is not harmful.
  • Loss of Fatty Tissue
    High doses of cortisone can have detrimental effects on some tissues in the body. When injected into fatty tissue, cortisone can lead to a problem called fat atrophy. Fat atrophy causes loss of fatty tissue, which can lead to dimpling of the skin or the thinning out of fat. Patients who get cortisone injections in the heel to treat plantar fasciitis may find walking painful as fat that usually cushions their steps may thin out.

Are They Safe?

Cortisone injections are extremely safe, but they do still have potential problems. If you are concerned about having a cortisone shot, talk with your doctor. While cortisone is a powerful treatment for many orthopedic conditions, there are usually other options that can also be tried. Many doctors will offer an injection as they are quick, easy, and most often effective. However, your doctor should also be able to offer other treatments for inflammation that may also be effective for those that cannot have, or don't want, a cortisone injection.

If you have had side-effects as a result of a previous cortisone injection, be sure to let your doctor know of the problem that occurred and the severity of the side-effect. This may influence whether or not you have another injection for the same or a different problem.


Mayo Clinic. Cortisone Shots.​​

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