What is a steroid injection for the foot or ankle?

A steroid injection contains medicine made from a group of drugs called corticosteroids. A steroid injection — or cortisone shot — reduces swelling, stiffness and pain in your foot and ankle. The steroid acts like the natural hormones that your body makes to stop inflammation. It's a non-invasive, non-surgical treatment.

When you might need a steroid injection for your foot or ankle

There are many reasons why your doctor may suggest a steroid injection for your foot or ankle pain. It can help if medication or physical therapy hasn't helped with the pain. However, rehabilitation includes shots along with other medications or physical therapy.

A steroid shot is an option before surgery on your foot or ankle. You may prefer a steroid injection. Oral steroids that you take by mouth have more side effects. 
There are some risks with a steroid injection. A steroid injection in your foot or ankle may cause the following concerns:

  • Infection
  • Vein puncture
  • Weakened tendon
  • Cartilage deterioration
  • Thinning of bones (osteoporosis)
  • Bone deterioration (osteonecrosis)

Because of these issues, your doctor may recommend only a few treatments a year.

What to expect during a steroid injection

A steroid injection typically takes just a few minutes. The doctor usually gives it in the office. Depending on the area of your foot or ankle receiving the injection, you'll either sit or lie down. The doctor puts numbing medicine on the injection site or blends it in with the steroid injection. You may feel a bit of pinching and a burning sensation that quickly goes away. The injected area may stay sore for a few days. You'll need to rest the injected area for a day or two.

Common foot and ankle conditions requiring a steroid injection

Steroid injections treat foot and ankle conditions such as:  

  • Gout
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Ankle osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Achilles tendinopathy
  • Osteoarthritis in ankle
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome
  • Posterior tibial tendonitis

A steroid injection may help if there's a lot of tenderness, swelling, popping or cracking sounds in your ankle. 

Once you have a steroid injection, you'll feel pain relief within hours or a couple of days. The timing depends on the type of medication you receive. Even with the risks, a steroid injection can be very effective in easing your foot and ankle pain.

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