For patients with back pain that is unresponsive to over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, steroids could be an alternative. Steroids are powerful medications that reduce swelling and inflammation which is often the cause of back pain. This can be very helpful for people with degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, sciatica, or other spine conditions.
Some steroids are taken orally. A typical prescription lasts for several days, with the highest dosage taken at the beginning of treatment. The dosage is then gradually tapered down to a lower amount toward the end of a treatment cycle.
Other steroid medications are injected directly into the spine. Steroid injections can be placed directly near a joint, disc, or nerve that is believed to be a source of pain. In some instances, these injections combine a short acting numbing agent with a long-acting corticosteroid. The results can last for upwards of several months. If necessary, a patient can receive several steroid injections over the course of a year, although most physicians recommend a maximum of three injections in a 12-month period.
What are Corticosteroid Injections
Corticosteroid injections are powerful anti-inflammatory medications commonly used to treat back pain. Corticosteroids differ from anabolic steroids, which are synthetic substances that are used to promote muscle growth. Corticosteroids work by suppressing the body’s natural immune system response that triggers inflammation. Since inflammation is one of the most common causes of back pain, steroids can be a very effective component of a multi-dimensional treatment plan.
Oral Steroids vs. Steroid Injections
There are two primary ways that corticosteroids can be given. Oral medications are the more common option. With this method, a patient will take several pills over a period of four to ten days, starting with the highest dosage that tapers gradually over the course of the treatment cycle.
In other cases, steroids can be injected directly into the spine. Epidural steroid injections, for example, deliver the medications directly to the space between the spinal vertebrae and spinal fluid. Sometimes, the corticosteroids are combined with a short-acting numbing medication, as the corticosteroids are designed to last a long time but can require several days to take effect. Injections can provide significant relief from chronic back pain. If needed, a person can have two or three epidural steroid injections over the course of a year.
Potential Side Effects
Many patients do not experience any side effects when they take corticosteroids for back pain. However, any medication has the potential to cause side effects, so it is important to discuss any potential risks of medication use with a physician. For people who experience side effects from corticosteroids, the most common are inflammation at the injection site, localized pain, and damage to the spinal nerve roots.
While steroids can be highly effective for relieving back pain, some people find that their pain persists despite courses of oral medication or steroid injections. For these individuals, other types of treatment might be necessary. Narcotic pain medications, muscle relaxers, and physical therapy are treatments that commonly prove to be helpful for back pain. Surgery, while not necessary for every individual, might also be an option for a patient whose symptoms do not improve after multiple attempts at conservative treatment.
BEST Health System
If you are living with chronic pain, there are a handful of treatments that you could benefit from. If you are interested in learning about what BEST can offer you, reach out to our team today. The BEST is yet to come.