Using Steroids to Alleviate Chronic Back Pain: What You Need to Know

Causing 83 million missed workdays every year, back pain is both a medical and economical drain. About 16 million Americans have persistent or chronic back pain serious enough to limit their ability to get through the day. Direct and indirect costs due to back pain could top $12 billion annually. Treating back pain is an increasing challenge as well as a contributor to the opioid crisis.

Corticosteroids are manufactured medications that closely resemble the hormone cortisol, naturally produced by your body. Commonly called steroids, these drugs reduce inflammation in the body while also slowing the activity of the immune system. This can help your body by limiting the effects of inflammation, which can affect mobility or irritate nerves. 

Certain inflammatory diseases, most notably rheumatoid arthritis, result from overactivity of the immune system. Steroids suppress immune system activity, slowing the rate at which these diseases affect you.

Steroids and back pain

Chronic back pain occurs for different reasons, with most of these contributing to nerve irritation. When your back pain arises due to inflammatory pressure on a nerve, reducing the amount of inflammation can similarly reduce or stop the pain.

Typically serving as a next­-level treatment for back pain, after rest and over-the-counter medications, cortisone injections often have a positive effect, reducing or eliminating back pain usually after a day or two. Depending on the formulation you receive, there could also be a local anesthetic that provides a numbing effect for a few hours after injection.

There’s no guarantee, however, of the success of a cortisone shot. For some, it can provide substantial relief, while others may see little benefit. There are few risks associated with a single shot, however. As with any injection, there’s a slight risk of infection, and, even less often, the needle may contact a nerve or blood vessel.

Limitations of steroid injections

Corticosteroids treat the pain symptoms associated with back pain. Even an effective shot is temporary, though you can expect relief to last for months. Steroids don’t help your body heal. While an injection can mask your pain in the short term, there’s no long-term health gain.

In fact, overuse of steroids in a single area causes the breakdown of bone, cartilage, and skin. Trying to use steroids to treat chronic back pain simply isn’t an effective long-term solution, though it may have a place in a pain management plan for some people.

Oral steroids

If you’re not a candidate for spinal injections, steroid pills become an option. These take longer to relieve pain, and because they enter your body through the digestive system, you’re exposed to the drug throughout your entire body. You’ll likely suffer side effects that are much more widespread. Like steroid injections, oral forms of the medication work best for treating short-term acute pain.

The doctors at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center can examine, diagnose, and treat your chronic back pain, beginning with conservative therapy and advancing until you’re living a pain-free life. It all starts with a consultation, so call the most convenient of our three offices in Phoenix and Sun City West, or use the convenient app on this page to request your appointment. There’s a solution to your chronic back pain so contact Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center today.

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