Friday, October 29, 2010

Do You Need That Cortisone (Steroid) Injection?

Have you got any pain in your elbow, patella or Achilles tendon? I've seen many cases of what used be called tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis and Achilles tendinitis in our clinics recently. What is now known as tendinopathy (or diseased tendon) of the elbow or Achilles as these cases are actually due to degenerative change rather than inflammation as numerous studies have shown.

Most of the time patients with tendon problems were given a cortisone (or corticosteroid) injection to treat the pain (rather than treating what caused the pain). Cortisone, an anti-inflammatory agent used to be one of the preferred treatments for overuse injuries of tendons (like tennis elbow, patella and Achilles tendinitis) which were notoriously resistant to treatment. Cortisone is often used to treat plantar fasciitis too. 

Pain wise the injections were effective, but as soon as the patients returned to the their sporting activity or even their daily activities, the pain returned. In adverse cases the tendons can even rupture. This happened on a few occasions when I was working at my previous job at the Singapore Sports Council with our national athletes after receiving the corticosteroid injections. They subsequently needed surgery to repair their ruptured tendons resulting in more time off. So for all you athletes out there, think three, four or five times and not just twice about taking that cortisone injection.

A major new review article published in the Lancet just last week raised major doubts on the efficacy (or wisdom) of using cortisone on tendon problems. Yes, the authors found plenty of evidence (in over 4 dozen high quality randomized controlled trials) that corticosteroid injections reduced patients' pain in the short term, but the effects were not great in the intermediate and long term. In fact patients receiving the injections had a much lower rate of recovery than those who did nothing or received physiotherapy (at 6 and 12 months). This was especially true for patients with tennis elbow pain, rotator cuff (swimmer's shoulder) pain and Achilles tendon pain.

There are more evidenced-based treatment for tendinopathy other than cortisone injections, ultrasound, massage, interferential currents etc. We at Physio and Sports Solutions practice evidenced-based physiotherapy (neural stretching, Mulligan MWM's, eccentric muscles strengthening exercises and Maitland joint mobilizations etc) to treat you. Come let us help you with your tendon injuries.


Coombes BK, Bisset L, Vicenzino B (2010). Efficacy And Safety Of Corticosteroid Injections And Other Injections For Management of Tendinopathy: A Systematic Review of Randomised Controlled Trials. The Lancet. Epub on 22 October 2010.

*Picture by Ballyscanion/Getty Images.


  1. I have always heard about this but never gave it a second thought. I've suffered from back pain for years and have always been on edge when trying new things cause everything I have tried has failed. The only thing that has relieved me back pain was actually exercise. Thanks for sharing this information with us.


  2. Hi,
    I have read your blog and found it very informative. Thanks for sharing such interesting posts. Looking forward to more such blogs
    Steroid injection in knee