Getting a cortisone injection to treat tennis elbow may cause a lot of undue pain, considering its pretty much equivalent to a drug-free saline shot.
A new study out of Stanford University in Menlo Park, California, followed a group of patients for a few weeks after they were given steroid shots. Even though patients reported less pain and disability compared to the group given placebo injections, the first group experienced slower recovery compared to the placebo group.
“This absolutely confirms that steroid injections are not a good idea,” said Dr. Allan Mishra, an orthopedic surgeon at Stanford who says the shots actually slow tennis elbow recovery. “… people think that it’s okay to get a cortisone injection [for tennis elbow], [but] it puts you at a disadvantage long term in terms of getting better.”
A previous study from Denmark found that neither steroid nor platelet injections improved pain nor functioning among patients with tennis elbow any better than saline shots. However, this new study uncovers the possible long-term tendon damage that can be caused by cortisone shots, along with the surprising fact that symptoms can return after a cortisone injection.
In the meantime, Mishra says that medical researchers are seeking more effective treatments for tendon pain. Platelet-rich plasma injections might be an option, but scientists are still in the early testing phases.
Currently, doctors recommend a mixture of good old fashioned time and basic stretching to heal tennis elbow symptoms.
“I think home-based exercises are probably sufficient for treating this,” says Mishras. “You’d be better off with that than with a [average $100] cortisone injection.”