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Are Cortisone Injections Painful?

Doctors Can Help to Ensure They Are Not Painful

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Updated June 02, 2014

Question: Are Cortisone Injections Painful?

Some patients say cortisone injections are painful. Most doctors say they shouldn't be. What should you really expect when getting cortisone injections?

Answer: It's sort of subjective. If you think a cortisone injection is painful, it is. But in reality, doctors take steps to ensure that cortisone injections are not painful. In describing how he minimizes the pain when giving cortisone injections, rheumatologist Scott J. Zashin, MD said, "I freeze the skin with ethyl chloride and I take my time."

Aside from topical anesthetics used to freeze the skin before giving injection, other numbing medications -- such as lidocaine -- can be injected with the cortisone. Using a small (thin) needle instead of a larger (thicker) one alleviates discomfort too. However, if your doctor wants to remove fluid from the affected joint in addition to injecting cortisone, he will likely opt for the larger needle.

I have had several cortisone injections over the years. There was only one time when the injection caused me to inadvertently curse at my orthopedic doctor. Perhaps he didn't take his time, freeze the skin or wait until it was numb.

Don't be shy. Ask your doctor to briefly explain the procedure he will use when giving you the cortisone injection. If you hear words like freeze spray, lidocaine, and small needle, you're likely in good hands. The next step is for you to relax. Tensing up will work against you.

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