Are Cortisone Shots Healing Athletes, or Helping to Cripple Them?

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Oct. 28 2010 4:54 PM

Are Cortisone Shots Healing Athletes, or Helping to Cripple Them?

Cortisone, the patch-'em-up injection of choice for injured athletes, may be worse than useless at healing some tendon injuries, the Lancet reported. The anti-inflammatory steroid shot has been used to help athletes overcome a sore shoulder , elbow , ankle , or knee for decades now. It's a serious medication, with dangerous side effects , but team doctors count on it to clear up nagging tendinitis.

Unfortunately, as the New York Times health blog wrote, tendinitis doesn't really involve inflammation . The cortisone is strictly a painkiller.

What does that mean for people who got cortisone in the hopes of healing injuries? For elbow patients, the injections were worse than simply leaving the sore joint alone:

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Overall, people who received cortisone shots had a much lower rate of full recovery than those who did nothing or who underwent physical therapy. They also had a 63 percent higher risk of relapse than people who adopted the time-honored wait-and-see approach. The evidence for cortisone as a treatment for other aching tendons, like sore shoulders and Achilles-tendon pain, was slight and conflicting, the review found. But in terms of tennis elbow, the shots seemed to actually be counterproductive.

So cortisone did nothing, or it did less than nothing. And this was for ordinary patients, not pro athletes counting on the cortisone to

of game action.



(If you have a bad hamstring, however, cortisone is

.)

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.