What is a cortisone injection?

A cortisone injection is a treatment for a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. Cortisone is a corticosteroid. Corticosteroids have potent anti-inflammatory effects. They can also help regulate your immune system’s activity. 

There are a many types of cortisones injections. Cortisone injection is often a generic term for injection of any of these corticosteroids. The goal of a cortisone injection is to regulate the immune system or reduce inflammation. Reducing inflammation helps relieve pain.

A cortisone injection is only one type of treatment. Discuss all your treatment options with your doctor or healthcare provider to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of cortisone injections

The types of cortisone injections include:

  • Local injections reduce inflammation in a limited or small area of your body. Examples of local injections include intra-articular (joint) injections and epidural (spinal) injections.
  • Systemic injections reduce inflammation in your entire body or system or regulate your immune system’s activity. Systemic injections treat allergic reactions and some diseases that affect more than one area. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, breathing problems, collagen diseases, and cancer.

Other procedures that may be performed

Doctors can use cortisone injections by themselves to treat certain diseases, disorders or conditions. Cortisone injections are also used with additional treatments. Other treatments vary depending on the specific disease, disorder or condition. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider about all the treatment options for your condition.

Why is a cortisone injection used? 

Your doctor may recommend a cortisone injection to treat a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions. These include:

  • Adrenal insufficiency or decreased functioning of your adrenal gland
  • Allergic reactions
  • Cancer
  • Collagen and autoimmune disorders, such as systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Joint problems, such as arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis
  • Respiratory problems, such as acute asthma attacks
  • Skin conditions, such as keloids and psoriasis
  • Soft tissue conditions, such as fasciitis and ganglion cysts 
  • Spine conditions, such as spinal stenosis or herniated disks

Who performs cortisone injections?

A cortisone injection is a fairly common medical treatment. Just about any type of doctor or healthcare provider trained in the procedure can give one as part of a routine office visit. Typically, the specialist who gives the injection will be the same one you visited for your specific condition. 

For example, if you need a cortisone injection as part of a treatment for joint pain from a sports injury, then the shot will likely be given by an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist. 

The following specialists give cortisone injections:

  • Allergists-immunologists are internal medicine doctors or pediatricians who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and management of allergies, asthma and immunologic disorders.
  • Dermatologists specialize in treating conditions that affect the skin, hair and nails.
  • Endocrinologists are internal medicine doctors or pediatricians who specialize in the treatment of endocrine disorders.
  • Oncologists are internal medicine doctors or pediatricians who specialize in treating cancer.
  • Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the surgical treatment of diseases of the bones and connective tissues.
  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and nonsurgical treatment and management of physical and mental disabilities
  • Sports medicine doctors specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and nonsurgical treatment of exercise- and sports-related injuries.

How is a cortisone injection given?

Cortisone injections are given in various ways. These include:

  • Epidural injections, in which your doctor injects a corticosteroid near your spinal canal to reduce inflammation in the spine. Reducing inflammation can provide pain relief from spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, herniated disks, and injuries to your spinal nerves. This is a form of local injection. Your doctor will most likely combine a corticosteroid with a local anesthetic for epidural injections.
  • Intra-articular injections, in which your doctor injects a corticosteroid directly into your joint. This is also a form of local injection. Most of these injections take place in your doctor’s office or an outpatient setting. In cases involving joints that are difficult to access, such as the hip, your injection may take place in a hospital setting using imaging technology to guide the process. Your doctor may combine a corticosteroid with a local anesthetic for intra-articular injections.
  • Intralesional injections, which go directly into a skin lesion, such as acne or a keloid. A keloid is an overgrowth of collagen tissue at the site of a scar or wound. Your doctor may combine a corticosteroid with a local anesthetic for intralesional injections. Intralesional injections are a form of local injection.
  • Intramuscular injections, in which your doctor injects a corticosteroid directly into a muscle. Intramuscular injections are a form of systemic injection. These injections reduce inflammation in more than one area of your body. Your doctor may combine a corticosteroid with a local anesthetic for an intramuscular injection.
  • Intravenous injections, which go directly into your vein. They are a form of systemic injection. Intravenous cortisone injections are typically given as treatment for serious conditions in a hospital.