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 decrease inflammation. This can help reduce pain and allow more movement in the shoulder.

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 may 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, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy) has failed to improve the problem. Corticosteroids may be used to relieve acute pain so other treatment such as exercise can be tried.

How Well It Works

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

Corticosteroids may help relieve pain for a short time, but it's not clear that they work better than other treatments.1

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

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Call your doctor if you have:

  • Hives.
  • Pain and swelling around the injection site that lasts more than 2 days.

One common side effect of this medicine is pain and swelling the first day or two after the injection. It may help to apply ice at home for 15 to 20 minutes.

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

What To Think About

The standard of practice is that steroid injections should be given only 3 or 4 times a year in a single joint area.

Injection of any substance into a joint or tendon has a very small risk of harm, including damage to a tendon, ligament, or nerve; bleeding into the tissue; or infection. Although these rarely happen, your doctor will likely mention these risks to you before you get an injection into a joint.

Nobody likes needles. But experienced surgeons can usually do the injection in under 30 seconds. It does hurt, but it's quick.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.



  1. Coombes BK, et al. (2010). Efficacy and safety of corticosteroid injections and other injections for management of tendinopathy: A systematic review of randomised controlled trials. Lancet, 376(9754): 1751–1767.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerTimothy Bhattacharyya, MD
Last RevisedMay 14, 2012

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