Corticosteroid injections for rotator cuff disorders

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Corticosteroid injections for rotator cuff disorders


Generic Name

Corticosteroid injections help diagnose or treat rotator cuff disorders. Your doctor may give you an injection of corticosteroid mixed with anesthetic (often lidocaine) or may give you a shot of anesthetic before a shot of corticosteroid.

How It Works

Corticosteroids may decrease inflammation and pain. But they probably do not cure rotator cuff disorders.

Why It Is Used

Your doctor may inject a shot of anesthetic into your shoulder (subacromial space injection) to help find out whether the limited movement is caused by pain or weakness. If the anesthetic relieves the pain and allows you to move your shoulder normally, the diagnosis is most likely some form of rotator cuff disease. Your doctor may then inject corticosteroids into the area to reduce inflammation. But if your shoulder is still weak after the injection of anesthetic, the problem is probably a rotator cuff tear.

Corticosteroid injections help relieve pain and inflammation in the shoulder due to tendinitis or bursitis in or around the rotator cuff. They usually are used after other treatment (such as rest, ice or heat, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and physiotherapy) has failed to improve the problem.

How Well It Works

After the anesthetic wears off (usually 4 to 6 hours after the shot), you are likely to experience discomfort for a few days. The corticosteroid will take effect and begin to relieve inflammation and pain after 1 to 2 days.

The effectiveness of corticosteroid injections can vary. In some cases, the relief from inflammation and pain may last for several weeks or more. In other cases, the shot may help for only a short time (about a week). And some people do not gain much relief from inflammation and pain.1

If pain is not relieved by the corticosteroid injection, the pain may be caused by another problem.

Side Effects

Corticosteroids have potential side effects and should be used with caution. Although they may provide relief from pain and inflammation, corticosteroids can also slow healing and weaken tendons. Other side effects include:

  • Increased pain during the first few days after an injection.
  • Tendon degeneration.
  • Skin colour (pigmentation) changes.
  • Dimpling of the skin (subcutaneous atrophy).
  • Infection at the injection site, although this is rare.
  • Elevated blood sugar levels if you have diabetes.

Your rotator cuff may be weaker shortly after a corticosteroid injection. You should avoid strengthening exercises for a few days after your injection.

You should also avoid contact sports for a few days after a corticosteroid injection, or else you risk damaging an already weakened or damaged rotator cuff.

Repeated use of corticosteroids may weaken tendons. Doctors usually wait at least 2 months between injections. And they do not usually give more than 3 or 4 injections into one area. If an initial corticosteroid injection does not provide significant relief, a second shot may be given to ensure it was given in the correct place.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Corticosteroid injections should not be given if there is any sign of infection.

Applying an ice pack to the shoulder after the anesthetic has worn off and before the corticosteroid takes effect often helps reduce pain.

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  1. Speed C (2006). Shoulder pain, search date February 2006. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online:


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Patrick J. McMahon, MD - Orthopedic Surgery
Last Revised June 7, 2010

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