Contemplating Cortisone?

Ahh..the cortisone shot.  It’s a frequently-used treatment for joint pain, but do you really know what it’s doing for you?  I’m not talking short term…I’m talking long term.

Ultimately, is it helping or hurting?  Yes, it’s taking the pain away temporarily, but it’s not telling us anything about why the pain is there in the first place.  To me, that’s like hearing a strange clunking noise in your car and deciding to turn up the radio louder and louder until you can’t hear the clunking …you’re simply masking the “noise”.

The first question that needs to be asked is: What is cortisone?  Cortisone is a natural steroid produced by the body through a series of molecular events.  It is produced by the adrenal glands and is released when the body is under stress.  It activates the flight-or-fight response and is released in order to reduce inflammation in the body (fight response).  Sounds harmless so far, right?  It’s natural, only happens when we’re stressed and it puts the body on “alert” that something isn’t quite right.  We couldn’t possibly screw this up…could we?

Like many good ideas, we as humans have taken what our bodies do perfectly and tweak them until the are…ahem…perfected.

Enter…the cortisone injection.  Injected cortisone is a synthetic version of what your body produces naturally, except at higher levels.

In our attempt at perfection and being “better than we were designed”, we have taken something perfect and changed it into something quite dangerous.  We have created a laundry list of other negative side effects now associated with artificial cortisone injection.  Cortisone injections have been linked to bone death (osteonecrosis), nerve damage, tendon weakening or rupture, and thinning of bone (osteoporosis), just to name a few.

Remember that inflammation is the body’s response that something isn’t quite right. It’s trying to warn you of something. Cortisone is an anti-inflammatory.  No inflammatory response = no warning from the body.  No warning from the body = continuing activity with no short-term repercussions.  The long-term side effects, however, can be catastrophic.  This is an excerpt from “Pain Free” by Pete Egoscue about a racquet ball player, Gil, who had attempted to “play through the pain” thanks to cortisone injections:

When I first saw Gil, he was desperate to play in a major tournament despite agonizing pain. He admitted he had had many cortisone shots and that he was turning to me because no doctor would agree to administer another one.

“Why not?” I asked

“Feel my elbow.”

I took his right elbow and gently squeezed it. As I did so, my thumb slid up and into the joint, pushing the skin before it as though I were slipping into a glove. The elbow is an impressive triple joint, packed with cartilage, ligaments, bone condyles, and tendons. But my thumb went into Gil’s elbow past the knuckle. Gil’s elbow joint mechanism, thanks to the cortisone, had collapsed. The pain-killer had allowed him to keep playing year after year while the bone and other tissue were reduced to mush. Sadly there was nothing I could do for Gil. It is very difficult to treat elbow pain when there is no elbow joint left. He had opted to kill the pain, to override its message, and ended up killing his elbow.

How scary is that?  Think it won’t happen to you?  Then keep getting injected.  There’s a reason why your physician limits the number of injections you can get.

Cortisone suppresses your immune system meaning while your body is actively trying to fight an injury and calm down the injury site, the immune system just lost a lot of its able-bodied soldiers.  The result?  We are suppressing the body’s ability to help and heal itself! Perfection?  Far from it.

So, I hope this gets you thinking twice about cortisone injections.  Simply put, they are a masking agent, and a very dangerous one at that.  Listen to your body, don’t mute it.  Your body will thank you in the long run.

What has your experience been with cortisone?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  Leave a comment and tell me your story.