Steroids for alleviating back pain

Steroids are sometimes prescribed for back pain that does not improve with over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Steroids are powerful medications that work by reducing swelling and inflammation. This can be very helpful for people with degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, sciatica or other spine conditions.

Some steroids are taken orally (by mouth). 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 needed, 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.

Commonly used steroid medications

Some of the most frequently recommended steroids for back pain include:

  • Prednisone
  • Methylprednisone
  • Dexamethasone

Potential side effects

Many people 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’s 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 (associated with steroid injections), localized pain, headaches, ulcers and damage to spinal nerve roots.

While steroids can be highly effective for relieving back pain, some people find that their pain persists despite several courses of oral medications 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.