The Pros and Cons of Steroid Injections for Back Pain

Nov 9, 2023 | Pain Management

If you’re among the millions of people living with chronic back pain, you know it can feel like a constant battle just trying to get through each day. One treatment option that a growing number of healthcare providers are recommending these days is steroid injections. 

Like any medical procedure, steroid injections come with both benefits and potential drawbacks. Let’s take a closer look at what these injections are, how they work, their pros and cons, and some potential alternatives.

What Are Steroid Injections?

Steroid injections, also known as corticosteroid injections, are a type of anti-inflammatory medicine. They’re used to help relieve pain and inflammation in specific areas of the body. For back pain, these injections are often administered into the epidural space of the spine (the area between the dura mater and the vertebrae).

These injections work by reducing inflammation around the nerve roots and disc material at the level of the spine where the injection is given. This can decrease swelling and pressure on the spinal nerve roots, which can significantly alleviate pain.

The Pros of Steroid Injections for Back Pain

Many patients find that steroid injections can be highly effective at reducing or even eliminating their pain. These are the most commonly cited benefits of this minimally invasive procedure:

Immediate Pain Relief

One of the most significant advantages of steroid injections is that they can provide fast relief from pain — which can be especially good news for those who have been suffering from severe chronic back pain for an extended period.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Steroid injections offer a non-surgical treatment option for those who wish to avoid surgery or are not good candidates for it.

Targeted Treatment

Steroid injections are administered directly into the area causing pain, providing more precise treatment.

Reduction in Inflammation

Steroid injections work by reducing inflammation, which is often a primary cause of back pain.

Potential for Physical Therapy Progression

By relieving pain, steroid injections may make it possible for patients to participate in physical therapy. This combination can potentially lead to long-term improvements in pain and function.

Alternative to Opioids

Countless patients have turned to opioid-based medications to treat their pain. While they can be effective, studies and cases have shown that they can also be addictive and dangerous to one’s health. Steroid injections are a positive alternative

The Cons of Steroid Injections for Back Pain

Patients are all unique and their bodies can respond differently to various treatments. Some individuals may experience less-than-desirable results from steroid injections, such as:

Temporary Relief

While steroid injections can provide immediate relief, the effects are often temporary. Pain may return after the medication wears off.

Potential Side Effects

Potential side effects include insomnia, high blood sugar, or mood swings. While not common, these side effects can be severe in some cases. For many patients, however, the severity of the pain outweighs other possible consequences.

Risk of Infection

Any procedure that involves penetrating the skin carries a risk of infection. However, this risk is typically very low in steroid injections.

Not a Cure

Steroid injections are not a cure for back pain. They are a treatment designed to manage symptoms, not eliminate the underlying cause of pain. As mentioned above, however, they can provide a window of opportunity for applying other treatments such as physical therapy.

Possible Weakening of Nearby Bones and Tissues

Repeated steroid injections can potentially weaken nearby bones and soft tissues, which could increase the risk of future injuries.

Alternatives to Steroid Injections

Be sure to talk with your doctor — as well as a pain management specialist — about the pros and cons of steroid injections for back pain before deciding whether it’s right for you. If you find that it’s not your best option, you do have alternatives, including the following: 

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help strengthen the muscles that support your back, improve flexibility, and promote better posture.


Some people find relief from chronic back pain through hot needling, an ancient medical treatment that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body.

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can help relieve muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation, which may help alleviate back pain.

Pain Medications

Over-the-counter and prescription medications can be used to manage back pain. However, they also come with potential side effects and risks.

Lifestyle Modifications

Sometimes, lifestyle changes such as losing weight, quitting smoking, or improving sleep hygiene, can help manage chronic back pain.

Psychological Support

Dealing with chronic pain can be mentally and emotionally draining. Psychological therapy helps many patients find ways of managing their pain through practices such as meditation or other calming exercises. 

Get Pain Management Support With HPM

At HPM, we understand that living with chronic pain can be challenging. That’s why we offer a range of advanced medical treatments, including steroid injections, to help manage your pain.

Our healthcare practitioners are specially trained in diagnosing and treating chronic pain. We operate pain clinics in rural communities across the U.S., ensuring that you don’t have to travel far for excellent care.

Visit our website to find a location near you and start your journey towards a life with less pain today.