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The truth about cortisone

The number of people receiving cortisone injections is on the rise. This hormone produced in our own adrenal gland is also synthetically produced and readily used in the medical field. But it’s not just by injection … every heard of hydrocortisone cream? There are so many conditions this potent steroid treats. Here are the most common uses for its injection: inflammation of specific joints or tendons, plantar fasciitis, tendinitis, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

The most common topical uses are for skin conditions like insect bites, eczema, poison ivy and different types of allergies. Shoulders, knees, aches, pains, itches, rashes … cortisone is the anti- agent that reduces pain almost instantly by preventing the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation.

Our body naturally releases cortisone when under stress. However, inflamed areas may need an extra dose. But this isn’t to say that this product is freely up for grabs and the answer to all life’s pains. Most doctors limit their use to every six weeks at most, but ideally no more than three or four times per year.

Possible side effects include deterioration of cartilage at the joints or nerve damage, so this quick fix is just a Band-Aid not a permanent solution. Over time the shots don’t have the same impact, not because a tolerance is built in the body, but rather the joint has actually been worn down.  However, it can be the alternative to putting off surgery in many cases. Physical therapy and lifestyle changes such as exercise and nutrition, are quality long- term approaches to avoiding surgery as well.

On the other hand, topical uses suppress the body’s immune response to the type of skin condition. They are classified by potency level, which influences their availability over the counter or by prescription.

Typically, within three to five days, the positive effects kick in, but results vary person to person. This steroid stays potent in the body anywhere from six weeks to six months. The debate lies in the “cover-up” effect. If my shoulder is causing me chronic pain, does having a cortisone shot and going right back to activity, create a cycle of shot taking for myself? I’m certainly not addressing the real problem, but I’m also avoiding being shoulder immobile for some time if I have surgery.

There are always risks and benefits to our decisions. Steroid use is not meant to be a solution. We have to go back to the original definition in which cortisone is a hormone naturally produced in our bodies. If our body is not naturally performing its functions, then yes, there is a red flag.

The Lifestyle of the FIT and Healthy person includes being proactive in their health care, seeking medical advice and treatment when needed, and always knowing that they are responsible for their choices about their bodies. After all, our bodies are designed to feel good. Self-care means self-improvement.