Are Cortisone Injections Safe?

If you suffer from ongoing joint pain, your doctor may recommend that you get a corticosteroid, or hydrocortisone injection. Common places are in the knee, along the lower spine, and in the shoulder joint.

Because cortisol can drastically reduce inflammatory conditions, the synthetic form of cortisone is often used to treat several kinds of inflammatory conditions, ranging from an acute allergic response to chronic pain that can go on for years.

Your doctor will tell you that the effects of an injection into a joint are local and not systemic.
Hydrocortisone shots are often used to treat joint pain by reducing inflammation, but they don’t come without risks. A steroid shot could potentially cause an infection to seriously damage joint tissue.

If the effects of anything in the body are systemic, this means that it affects the entire body, as opposed to just one area. This is an important distinction to make because oral forms of hydrocortisone more drastically affect immune function, weight, and adrenal health.

Is there any part of the body that is completely isolated from the rest?

The entire body is a network of cells, all communicating with one another.

Within the joints, some tissues have no blood or lymphatic vessels. This means that there is very little space for red blood cells and white blood cells to enter into this tissue. It also means that this makes joint tissue more isolated. However, even in these cases, this tissue still receives nutrients from surrounding blood supply. This happens either through diffusion or through movement and exercise.

In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) tells us that, “Systemic effects are possible… and patients should always be acutely monitored for reactions. Alterations in taste have been reported for one to two days after steroid injection. Hyperglycemia is possible in patients who have diabetes.”

Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Hydrocortisone Injections

Hydrocortisone shots can improve quality of life, and they can drastically reduce pain. When used properly, the anti-inflammatory effect of a steroid injection will help to preserve tissue. This is because inflammation leads to tissue destruction.

However, as we mentioned before, while cortisol reduces inflammation, it also suppresses immune system function. One possible outcome of a steroid shot is infection, which can be especially devastating in joint tissue.

Cortisol also is known to promote the loss of collagen. What are joints but a hub of connective tissue and collagen-rich tendons? Possible side effects of corticosteroid injection are the breakdown of tissue, tendon rupture, and skin discoloration.

Most importantly, reducing inflammation does not address the root of the problem.

Overusing Synthetic Substances Can Confuse the Body

Whenever we put a synthetic chemical into the body that mimics a natural substance, certain receptors bind to certain chemicals. The whole body feels the influence of this synthetic substance. This is why it works. However, synthetic mimicry can have negative consequences.

Steroids, hydrocortisone, or corticosteroids are a synthetic form of cortisone.

  • Natural cortisone is hormone that is released in the body in response to stress.
  • The adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, are partially responsible for the release of cortisone.
  • Other endocrine glands that play a role in its release and circulation are the hypothalamus and the pituitary, which sit inside the brain.

In order to become active in the body, cortisone becomes cortisol. Cortisol has a stronger effect in the body on blood sugar regulation, blood pressure regulation, immune system suppression, and in the reduction of inflammation.


  • The entire body orchestrates the production and release of natural cortisol.
  • Natural cortisol has a very short life in the body, whereas synthetic cortisol lasts for several weeks in the body.
  • Other hormones in the body play a role in the inflammatory process, such as estrogen. (1) We are still learning about many of these inflammatory processes that involve other hormones.

By focusing on our fight-or-flight chemicals, and influencing these chemicals, we are potentially affecting the larger network of messaging that goes on between cells and other hormones.

If absolutely necessary, get a corticosteroid shot. In the meantime, look for the root of the problem.

It turns out that diet can have a massive impact on joint health. While there are many reasons why your joints are affected by diet, dietary rules are pretty much the same, case to case:

1. Eat as little sugar as possible. If there is an infection in the joint, which can cause severe pain, sugar will feed that infection. Sugar can also create stiff joints when it is consumed in excess.

2. Figure out which foods you have an immune response to and eliminate them. If only this were as easy as a blood test! Unfortunately, while blood tests can certainly help narrow down which foods you may react to, they are still imperfect. Always listen to your body when it comes to food sensitivities.

3. Heal digestive function. A part of many food sensitivities, which can contribute to chronic joint inflammation, is the question: how healthy is my gut? If you are running low on enzymes to properly break food down, you may always react to one food or another. And this reaction can show up in places other than the gut, such as in your joints. Assist Full Spectrum Enzymes and Assist Diary & Protein help your gut get the job done so you don’t have to deal with the negative consequences of a permeable gut!

4. Get gut infections under control. Controlling the microbial zoo in your gastrointestinal tract is important and part of proper gut function. Human beings have been doing this for thousands of years, naturally, with fermented foods.

The good bacteria in fermented foods control the overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, which can cause a lot of health problems if left to their own devices. Try making your own fermented foods with Veggie Culture Starter. Or, if you would rather have your fermented food on-the-go, try InnergyBiotic, a blend of beneficial microbes that can be especially healing and soothing to the gastrointestinal tract.

What to Remember Most About This Article:

Many doctors recommend a hydrocortisone shot to treat ongoing joint pain. While hydrocortisone shots can improve chronic pain in certain cases, cortisol can also suppress healthy immune system function. In some cases, a steroid shot could cause an infection to wreak havoc on joint tissue. Cortisol may also cause a loss of collagen in joint tissues and tendons.

For the best results to treat chronic joint pain, get to the root of the issue.

  1. Minimize sugar in your diet whenever possible.
  2. Eliminate any food triggers that cause an immune response.
  3. Start healing your digestive function.
  4. Control any chronic gut infections with fermented foods that promote healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.

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  1. Rainer H Straub. The Complex Role of Estrogens in Inflammation. Endocrine Reviews. 2007 Aug; 28 (5): 521 – 574.
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