A cortisone shot can help your tennis elbow with short-term pain relief, but over time, that shot may do more harm than good. That's the opinion of researchers who recently studied the effects of corticosteroid injections and physical therapy on lateral epicondylalgia—tennis elbow—a painful condition caused by overuse of elbow tendons when performing any repetitive activity, not just tennis.

Of patients who got steroid injections, 83 percent fully recovered after one year. In comparison, 96 percent of patients who received a drug-free placebo shot recovered fully. Adding physical therapy did little for long-term improvement but, as with cortisone injections, provided some short-term relief.

What's more, 54 percent who received the steroid shot had a recurrence of tennis elbow, compared with 12 percent of placebo recipients. The high recurrence rate among steroid patients led the researchers to suggest that corticosteroid medication may actually be worsening the condition.

Another theory for the shot’s poor long-term performance? Upon immediate pain relief from a shot, patients—usually against doctor's orders—may go right back to the activity that originally caused the condition instead of resting.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 309, p. 461; Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 05 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 05 Mar 2015