Debunking the Myth: Cortisone Injections for Back Pain

cortisone injection

If you’re suffering from back pain and looking for non-surgical relief, cortisone injections may be just what the doctor ordered. While they have gotten a bad rap in the past, by today’s medical standards, and according to Spine Universe, cortisone shots are actually considered to be useful and effective for easing back pain.

Why cortisone shots got a bad rap

If the term “cortisone shot” carries a negative connotation in your mind, you’re not alone. Cortisone injections, also known as epidural steroid injections (ESIs) were first administered to people suffering from sciatica and lower back pain in 1952. At the time, it was the quickest way to combat back pain temporarily without surgery.

Problems with cortisone shots were not uncommon. Some of the issues were due to the amount of cortisone administered — the dosage was too big. Other issues arose based on the injection being given in the wrong spot or the individual’s health not being fully assessed.

Remember, these are not anabolic steroids, like what weight lifters or athletes use to bulk up. Steroids are used differently in medical practice.

Effective relief for back pain

Today, medical professionals rely on cortisone injections to help people who live with chronic back pain. In a recent article featured on Spine Universe, Dr. John A. Van Houten, MD, a board certified orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in non-surgical spine problems, arthroscopic surgery and general orthopaedic surgery, wrote about cortisone and its effectiveness for back pain.

Dr. Van Houten explained, “Epidural steroid injections are useful for a variety of back conditions including sciatica, arthritis, degenerative disc problems, and spinal stenosis.”

How cortisone shots are administered

The location of the injection site is determined by your specific back condition. Someone who has sciatica, degenerative disc problems or spinal stenosis would get a cortisone shot injected into an area in the spinal column called the dura, the sac that encloses the spinal cord and spinal nerves.

While the idea of an injection in the spine is not appealing, the shot is not as painful as it sounds. Cortisone is often administered with a numbing agent, like Carbocaine or Lidocaine. For women who have had epidurals in the delivery room, a cortisone injection is a piece of cake.

It’s still a short-term fix

While a cortisone injection may give you temporary relief from back pain, it isn’t a cure-all for your back condition. If you’re struggling with pain that radiates down your leg, a cortisone shot could give you the relief you need to start physical therapy. For others, your chronic back condition may improve while you’re pain-free from the cortisone. But keep in mind, cortisone is only treating your symptoms, not the cause.

According to The Healthy Back Institute, “99 percent of back pain is the result of a physical problem, which means it requires a physical solution – regardless of the type or severity of the condition. No pill, injection, or massage can deliver lasting physical changes in – or for – your body.”

The verdict on cortisone shots

Trying a cortisone injection to temporarily alleviate your back pain is your personal decision. Chronic pain is miserable, so if you need relief, it’s probably a safe solution to try. Of course, your trusted medical professional will give you the pros and cons.

While the effects of a cortisone shot could make your journey to back to spine health more comfortable for a while, the real healing will begin when you can make physical changes that include muscle balance and proper alignment of your spine.

Have you tried a cortisone shot within the past few years to ease your back pain? If you have a story to share, let us know in the comments section below.


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