Can Cortisone Shots Treat Shoulder Pain?


Shoulder pain caused by inflammation can be debilitating—and even keep some patients from doing activities around the house, playing with their kids, or exercising. 

Whether the pain is caused by a one-time injury or wear and tear over time, a cortisone shot in the shoulder can sometimes dramatically reduce inflammation and get patients moving again.

Dr. Vijay Singh Saini, a board-certified family medicine physician, explains how patients can benefit from cortisone shots to the shoulder in cases of severe inflammation and pain.

How Cortisone Shots Work

Cortisone is a steroid that’s made from cortisol, which is a hormone that we produce naturally in our bodies. When injected into a joint, cortisone can reduce inflammation and alleviate pain in just a few days.

Cortisone shots are used to treat many different painful conditions, including:

  • Arthritis (including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis)
  • Bursitis
  • Tendinitis
  • Adhesive capsulitis (also known as frozen shoulder)
  • Gout
  • Rotator cuff disease
  • Inflammation from an overuse injury

Cortisone shots don’t cure the underlying cause of pain and inflammation, but they can be an important part of the recovery and pain management processes.

Shots come in both short- and long-acting versions and can be administered right in a doctor’s office. During the shot, your doctor might use an imaging tool (like an ultrasound) to carefully guide the needle to the right place in your shoulder.

Who can get a cortisone shot?

Because cortisone shots reduce inflammation, they work best for patients struggling with joint pain caused by certain underlying conditions or injuries. These often include active individuals and those with inflammatory diseases that affect their shoulders.

The best candidates for cortisone shots typically:

  • Haven’t found relief from bed rest or over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications
  • Can’t raise their arm or rotate their shoulder because of pain
  • Can’t participate in daily activities because of pain
  • Have discomfort caused by inflammation (and not from a broken bone or a non-inflammatory condition)

Your physician will ask you questions about your pain and medical history as well as perform a physical exam of your shoulder to determine if you’re a candidate for a cortisone shot.

How quickly do cortisone shots work?

Most patients find that their pain significantly improves about 1-3 days after an injection.

After receiving a shot, you may feel numbness for about a day if your doctor used an anesthetic on your shoulder. You may also notice a flare-up of swelling or redness after the numbness fades, which can be uncomfortable. This flare-up typically fades within 48 hours. After the discomfort fades, you should feel little to no pain.

How long does the pain relief last?

Cortisone shots to the shoulder typically result in relief that lasts for several months, but this can vary from patient to patient.

For some patients, one or two cortisone shots may be all you need to get back to daily activities. Others may require a few shots over time to find long-term relief. Your doctor may also recommend you attend physical therapy to help keep pain from returning, especially if you engage in physical activities that put extra strain on your shoulder.

Exactly how many shots you’ll need and how long they’ll last will depend on the cause of your pain, your lifestyle, and how quickly your body metabolizes the cortisone. Your doctor will talk with you about what kind of results you can expect.

Risks & Side Effects of Cortisone Shots

Short-term side effects are rare, but can include:

  • Pain and swelling at the injection site (also called a cortisone flare or post-injection flare; this usually fades after a day or two)
  • Skin discoloration around the injection site
  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Your doctor will give you steps to follow to reduce side effects, including resting your shoulder for a few days and using ice to reduce soreness. If the pain or swelling doesn’t go away after 48 hours, be sure to call your doctor.

It’s important to rest your shoulder for a few days after your shot, even if you feel better right away. Don’t lift heavy objects or participate in sports—these movements can make side effects worse and interfere with the healing process.

Long-Term Effects

While cortisone can provide quick relief, shots aren’t always a long-term solution for recurring pain. That’s because of the side effects and risks associated with using cortisone for an extended period of time.

Some risks of long-term use include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis (losing bone density)
  • Cartilage damage
  • Weakening of nearby tendons
  • Thinning of the skin around the injection site
  • Nerve damage
  • Weight gain

These side effects are rare, but your risk increases as you receive more shots, especially if those shots are administered within a short period of time of each other. It’s usually recommended that you don’t receive more than three or four cortisone shots in one year.

Dr. Saini will discuss the potential for side effects with you, as well as how to reduce short-term discomfort.

Learn More About Cortisone Shots for Pain Relief

If you’ve experienced a shoulder injury or are trying to manage osteoarthritis discomfort, cortisone shots may be the solution for your shoulder pain.

To learn more, schedule an appointment with Dr. Saini today at our Brandon location. Telemedicine options are also available. In addition to discussing cortisone shots for shoulder pain, Dr. Saini will also discuss other pain management options with you, including physical therapy, OTC medication, and more.

vijay singh saini mdAbout Vijay Singh Saini, MD

Dr. Vijay Singh Saini is a board-certified family medicine practitioner with experience in a variety of medical fields, including emergency medicine. Now, he’s proud to serve patients at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health’s location in Brandon.

As a family medicine specialist, Dr. Saini helps address all of a patient’s concerns to achieve whole-body health. In addition to cortisone shots, Dr. Saini will work with you to create a pain management plan that alleviates the symptoms and treats the underlying causes of discomfort.



Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your doctor to learn what treatment options are best for you.


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