As we get older, it seems like it begins to take much less than it did in the past for bodily aches and pains to appear. Our joints start giving use discomfort, reducing dexterity. We are not able to walk long distances as we once did thanks to our decreased endurance, and it is simply too risky to bend over to pick up that pencil we dropped because of our limited flexibility. One thing that millions of Americans can relate to is chronic lower back pain.
The pain relief industry has absolutely no problem with individuals and their chronic back pain—in fact, they will surely have some new cream for you to purchase with the promise of relief for the agony that rarely works. This has led the more severe back pain cases to pursue more extreme methods of treatment—this usually means steroid injections.
The use of steroid injections for the treatment of back pain or other inflammatory ailments is nothing new, being a common form of treatment that is typically a last resort. However, getting steroid shots for the treatment of chronic back pain only provides short-term relief and may carry unwanted side effects down the road.
A study from France focused on 135 patients with back pain that was suspected to be caused by inflammation between the discs and vertebrae in the lower spine. After a single steroid injection, researchers found that pain was relieved for about a month’s time, but as time went on, effectiveness waned. There was virtually no difference seen after one year between patients who did and didn’t get the injection.
According to lead researcher Dr. Christelle Nguyen, “Our results do not support the wide use of an injection of glucocorticoid in alleviating symptoms in the long term in this condition.”
Dr. Nguyen and her colleagues had hoped that targeting local disc inflammation with anti-inflammatory steroids would help alleviate long-term pain. They set out testing their theory by selecting patients with chronic lower back pain and signs of disc inflammation on an MRI, and the patients selected had approximately six years of back pain symptoms. Half of the selected participants were assigned a steroid shot and the other half were not.
Participants were asked to rate their pain before the injection, and again at one, three, six, and twelve month’s post injection. The results at the end of the short study revealed that overall, patients ended up in similar circumstances—they ended up with the same incidence of disc inflammation, a lower quality of life, more anxiety and depression, and the continued use of a non-narcotic pain pill.
Dr. Nguyen doesn’t intend for steroid injections to be put aside altogether but wants them to be reserved for cases where it’s absolutely necessary—it may be more suitable for more chronic cases of pain. Long term back pain requires more than just addressing the physical pain. Also, implementing cognitive behavior therapy and “pain psychology” goes a long way in helping patients cope with chronic, debilitating pain.