Steroid injections are a staple for treating many kinds of foot and ankle pain. Also called cortisone shots, they work by relieving inflammation, thereby decreasing pain and allowing your body to start the healing process.
“Steroid” is short for corticosteroid, a synthetic version of the cortisol your adrenal gland normally produces. It is not the same as the anabolic steroids some athletes use to bulk up or increase performance.
In the context of foot and ankle pain treatment, a steroid injection can ease pain, relieve stiffness, and improve function. The injection lasts longer than oral medication and may permit you to reduce or even discontinue oral medications that may cause unwanted side effects.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, our team of podiatrists understand how debilitating foot and ankle pain can be, which is why they rely on steroid injections as a mainstay of treatment for many conditions.
But many people, perhaps because they confuse corticosteroids with anabolic steroids, question whether these injections are safe. Here’s Dr. Robert Sheffey’s response.
What conditions can be helped by steroid injections?
We can treat many foot and ankle conditions using steroid injections. They include:
- Plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the tissue on the sole of the foot
- Achilles tendinitis, inflammation of tendon in back of calf that connects to heel
- Ankle arthritis, wear-and-tear of joint components
- Gout, accumulation of uric acid crystals in joints
- Bursitis, inflammation of lubricating sac
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome, compressed tibial nerve
- Haglund's deformity (pump bump)
- Morton’s neuroma, pain in ball of foot
- Hammertoe, abnormal bending of middle joint in second, third, or fourth toe
- Bunion, outward pushing of base joint in big toe, forming painful bump
Localized injections bathe the injured area in soothing steroids, relieving inflammation and reducing pain.
Are steroid injections safe?
When used by a board-certified podiatrist as part of your foot or ankle pain treatment, steroid injections are quite safe.
At Chicagoland Foot and Ankle, we use ultrasound or X-ray guidance to position the injection so it precisely matches up with the injured area. We also regulate the amount of steroid we inject to minimize any side effects. And because the injection is localized, it only affects the treatment area.
The potential side effects of cortisone shots increase with repeated use and larger doses of the steroids. These effects can include:
- Cartilage damage
- Thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis)
- Joint infection
- Nerve damage
- Tendon weakening or rupture
- Thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site
Because there are potential risks, we typically limit the number of shots you can receive in a joint. As a rule, you shouldn’t get them more often than every six weeks nor more than 3-4 times per year.
If you’re struggling with foot or ankle pain and need relief, there’s a good chance a steroid injection can relieve enough pain and inflammation so you can engage in a physical therapy program to rehab the injury.
To learn more, or to schedule a consultation with a member of our team, give Chicagoland Foot and Ankle a call at any of our locations or book online today. We’re located in the Mount Greenwood and Portage Park areas of Chicago, as well as Orland Park and New Lenox, Illinois.