Knee Pain and Cortisone Shot

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A cortisone shot is a common treatment for joint pain caused by degenerative conditions, one of the most common of which is arthritis. Many people with knee problems turn to cortisone injections when other knee pain treatments have failed. Cortisone shots can help, however, they are not the answer for everyone.

What Is Cortisone?

Cortisone is a type of steroid available in pill form or as an injection. While many knee injections are referred to as “cortisone injections,” some knee injections are simply the same class of steroid. According to the Mayo Clinic, most knee injections include a combination of corticosteroids, such as cortisone, and a local anesthetic, which decreases discomfort during the injection process. Cortisone helps to reduce inflammation, which makes it an effective pain treatment for certain conditions.

Types of Knee Conditions

Cortisone injections are commonly used to treat joint pain associated with conditions such as arthritis. The types of arthritis that may affect the knees include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Cortisone injections may also be used to treat knee pain associated with similar conditions, including lupus and gout. Tendinitis of the knee may also respond well to cortisone injections.

Considerations for Cortisone Injections

A cortisone injection may help treat knee pain that is not responsive to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory or pain medications or physical therapy. While it is considered an invasive procedure, most people find a cortisone injection preferable to surgery. For people with degenerative joint conditions such as arthritis, a cortisone injection may buy time before a more invasive treatment is needed. A cortisone injection may be a single event or a series of shots, depending on the knee condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis may restrict the number of cortisone injections available. Also, after a few injections, a doctor may pursue another option for pain relief.

What to Expect

Cortisone injections are generally performed in a doctor’s office as an outpatient procedure. When a doctor administers a cortisone shot to the knee, he will first clean the area and possibly apply a numbing agent. The injection does not take long to perform, however, it may feel uncomfortable. After the injection is finished, the site may be sore for several hours or a few days. The Mayo Clinic advises icing the knee to reduce pain.


Cortisone shots are not effective for everyone. In fact, for some people, they may cause an adverse reaction. Medline Plus lists bruising among the possible reactions, and the Mayo Clinic reports, for some people, pain and swelling of the knee may temporarily increase. However, both of these symptoms should subside within a day or two. Signs of a serious reaction to cortisone injections include a rash, unusual bleeding and excessive swelling in the legs. These reactions require immediate medical attention.