During the course of a football or basketball game, we’ll often discuss an injured player getting a shot and getting taped in order to return to the game. It’s a practice that is generally frowned upon by those in sports medicine, but does have foundations in being an effective treatment for pain. The “shot” is typically cortisone or some other type of corticosteroid designed to immediately address inflammation. Joint injuries in particular usually respond well to corticosteroids because the soft tissues in and around the joint are not vascularized, meaning that anything systemic you’d take like over-the-counter pain killers, only has limited impact on the pain and inflammation deep within the joint. The same goes for arthritis, which although is regarded as a disease of the elderly, can strike much earlier in life for those who have put their joints under extreme stress. Athletes, construction workers, and other manual laborers often begin seeing signs of arthritis in their mid 40s, getting progressively worse with age.
In these chronic situations and others like them, cortisone is a popular choice for a corticosteroid injection. The effects are immediate, long-lasting, and come with only a few, if any, side effects which are usually minor. Cortisone (or suitable substitute) is drawn into a syringe, and the needle pierces the skin directly adjacent to the area of internal inflammation. The syringe is depressed, delivering the medication as close as possible to the point of injury. Those receiving corticosteroid injections report almost instant relief. It is for this reason that it has been used in some sporting situations. However, it is important to understand that corticosteroids don’t actually heal an injury, they just treat the associated inflammation. Usually, there is a greater cause behind that inflammation that can get progressively and seriously worse without the appropriate rest and other treatment. Without the necessary pain to encourage a person to stop using an injured body part, severe or even permanent damage can occur, which is why it’s almost always frowned upon in sports medicine. Chronic conditions with a known cause, such as arthritis and just plain old age, are much better suited for the type of relief corticosteroids provide.