Some of the most often asked questions I receive from patients are surrounding the safety and side effects of steroid medications used in our spinal injections. Some of these questions and statements include “my family is concerned that I am using steroids too much”, “how many steroids injections can I have in my life time?” and “I heard steroids are bad for me, is that true?”. There are always two sides to every story, and the answers to these concerns will depend upon your particular situation and your individual health.
Steroids are classified as strong anti-inflammatory medications, and are used to reduce swelling and relieve pain by interrupting the inflammatory cascade. To relieve acute pain, the majority of spinal or orthopedic joint injections are comprised of a steroid medication in combination with a local anesthetic. The steroid medication in these injections is used to address any type of irritation or inflammation from an injury, as well as any pain, swelling, or stiffness due to overuse or degeneration of a joint or area of the body. The local anesthetic in your injection acts to temporarily numb the area being injected.
Your body makes its own internal steroid called cortisol. This natural steroid has various functions, some of which include regulating metabolism and helping reduce inflammation. When you combine cortisol with the artificial steroids you take, too many steroids in your body can be harmful. High levels of steroids can artificially affect various bodily functions such as: causing high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, lowered immune system, and low bone density. That being said, “too much” means constant regular doses, orally or injected.
Like most things in life, moderation is the key. A limited number, or amount, of steroids can be used very effectively to help you with your overall quality of life. When used appropriately and judiciously, steroids are very efficient in treating many pains associated with inflammation.
The goal is to use steroid injections as one part of a comprehensive treatment plan. By reducing pain and inflammation, you are able to participate in further preventative treatments such as physical therapy and rehabilitation. This will help to strengthen and increase your range of motion. Steroid injections are less beneficial when used alone, and tend to lead to recurrent pain and repeat injections beyond safe amounts.
When creating your treatment plan, our spinal specialists at Virginia Spine Institute will take into account your medical history, spinal issues, and past treatment history. By evaluating and using this information, it allows us to create a beneficial treatment plan individualized to your needs.
At Virginia Spine Institute, our multidisciplinary practice is all under one roof. This gives us the ability to offer more than just injections alone, which provides greater effective long term results. Once steroids are no longer effective, or become more short lived, you may be a candidate for other treatments through our practice. Some of these options include: regenerative medicines (like PRP treatment or stem cell therapy), radiofrequency ablation, and spinal cord stimulation.