Skip to main content

What Are Injections?

Injections are any medication given via needle. The term injections can refer to a way in which a number of medications can be delivered, but this article will focus on the much more common corticosteroid injections. Corticosteroids—which can include cortisone, hydrocortisone, prednisone and others—are anti-inflammatory medications that can be injected into painful and inflamed tissue, usually in a muscle, tendon or joint.

Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. Blood and chemicals rush to the injured area to clear out damaged cells and begin the healing process. Side effects of this process are swelling and pain. However, if inflammation goes on too long, it can actually impair blood flow to—and therefore healing of—the injured area. Corticosteroid injections reduce this inflammatory reaction.

Common Reasons for Corticosteroid Injections

Corticosteroids can be injected into joints, muscles, tendons and the fluid-filled sacs that lubricate joints, called bursae. Conditions that can be treated by corticosteroid injections include:

Candidates for Corticosteroid Injections

Good candidates for corticosteroid injections are people with painful, inflamed joints who have tried more conservative methods of symptom control—such as anti-inflammatories, ice and heat therapy, resting the joint and physical therapy—without success, but are not ready or not a good candidate for a surgical treatment.

Risks of Corticosteroid Injections

There are a number of risks associated with corticosteroid injections, including:

  • Joint infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Osteonecrosis (death of bone tissue)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Temporary spike in blood sugar
  • Tendon weakening

For these reasons, it is recommended that corticosteroid injections be limited to three or four times a year. People with diabetes must monitor their blood sugar levels closely due to the possibility of blood glucose spikes.

The Procedure

Getting a corticosteroid injection is a simple process. The steroid is usually given with a local anesthetic like lidocaine. Sometimes the two drugs are given with the same needle, and sometimes the anesthetic is injected first, followed by the steroid.

The injection is usually administered directly into the muscle, joint, tendon or bursa. Sometimes ultrasound is used to guide the injection to the correct spot.


The local anesthetic will stave off the pain for a number of hours, but once it wears off the pain may be worse than before the injection for 24 to 48 hours. There may also be swelling and irritation around the injection site. Ice should be applied to the injection site, and the patient or caregiver should be on the lookout for signs of infection, which can include swelling and redness that last for more than 48 hours.

The amount of time that it may take for a steroid injection to take effect can vary in patients. At times the improvement can be immediate but in other patients it may take anywhere from a few days up to week.

If you have a soft-tissue injury and think a corticosteroid injection may help, follow the link below and answer a few short questions. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for choosing Summit Health.

Schedule an Appointment