How Effective Are Steroid Injections in Relieving Back Pain?

Eight out of every 10 Americans will have back pain at some point in their lives, including chronic back pain that interferes with simple activities like climbing stairs, sitting at a desk, or even getting a good night’s sleep. 

Pain medication can help with some types of back pain, but many patients find they need higher and higher doses to keep symptoms under control. And sometimes, pain relievers don’t provide nearly as much relief as they need. That’s when steroid injections can help.

At his practice in Roseville, Minnesota, David Chang, MD-PhD, DABNS, uses steroid injections to help his patients find relief for many types of back pain, including pain from two relatively common spine problems: herniated discs and spinal stenosis

How steroid injections work

Corticosteroids (or steroids) relieve back pain by reducing or eliminating the inflammation associated with it. Many types of back pain are caused by inflammation or by diseases or conditions that cause inflammation. 

Your body produces some steroids naturally. Steroid injections use lab-created steroids that are very similar to the chemicals your body produces.

Injecting steroids near your spine allows Dr. Chang to deliver medication directly to the site of inflammation. That means the medication can get right to work where it’s needed, rather than traveling through the digestive system and bloodstream first.

What conditions injections can treat

Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, steroid injections are primarily used for back pain caused by nerve compression. That includes herniated (or bulging) discs and spinal stenosis, a condition that happens when the spinal canal narrows.

There’s really no way to tell if steroid injections can help your back pain unless you have a doctor evaluate your spine and your symptoms. But one rule of thumb is that steroid injections may be a good option if you have back pain accompanied by pain or numbness in your legs or buttocks. 

We can also use steroid injections for inflammation of a tendon (tendinitis) or bursitis, inflammation of fluid-filled sacs near your back joints. We don’t use steroid injections to treat back pain caused by muscle soreness or muscle strain.

Effectiveness of steroid injections

Dr. Chang usually suggests steroid injections after trying other conservative treatments. That includes things like gentle stretching, ice or heat therapy, and over-the-counter pain medicines.

When Dr. Chang determines steroid injections are a good choice for your symptoms and your underlying condition, he treats you right in the office. Most injections include a local anesthetic in addition to the steroid medication for immediate pain relief.

After injections, most of our patients experience immediate relief. Once the pain medication wears off (usually in a day or two), pain may return temporarily, but symptoms tend to decrease significantly as the steroids go to work to reduce inflammation. 

The effects of the injections usually last for several months. If the pain returns, we can repeat the injections.

Learn if steroid injections can help you

Steroid injections can be an effective solution for some types of back pain, especially when other treatment options fail to provide relief. To find out if they’re a good option for your symptoms, call the office or book an appointment online today.

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