Steroids, also known as corticosteroids, are man-made hormones that can help reduce swelling and inflammation in the body, which may help improve back pain.

Back pain is not a specific diagnosis or disease but a symptom of other underlying conditions. Before prescribing medications, doctors need to address the cause of back pain to recommend the most appropriate treatment for the condition.

If a person experiences back pain that gets worse or that does not improve with rest, they should contact their doctor.

This article discusses how steroids can work to treat back pain, what conditions they can treat, and the types of steroids available. It also looks at possible side effects and how people can take them.

A person has back pain.
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Steroids are man-made hormones that are similar to the hormones that the adrenal glands in our bodies produce. Adrenal glands are two small glands positioned above the kidneys.

Steroids taken in a higher quantity compared to what our body typically produces can reduce swelling and inflammation in parts of the body, including the back. This may help reduce the discomfort that people with back pain may experience.

Steroids are available in different forms, including pills and injections.

Learn more about corticosteroids.

Steroids can help improve conditions that involve the inflammation of the spinal nerves. These may include:

Learn more about causes of back pain.

Steroids can be effective for back pain. Corticosteroids can help reduce the nerve inflammation of spinal nerves that may be at the origin of the discomfort.

However, in certain cases, depending on the condition causing the back pain and its severity, corticosteroids may not be sufficient to treat back pain. In the most severe cases, people may need to undergo surgery.

Learn about more treatments for back pain.

Corticosteroid tablets taken for less than 3 weeks usually do not have side effects.

However, a person receiving a steroid injection or taking steroid tablets for a prolonged period of time may experience side effects.

Possible side effects may include:

Steroid injections may cause:

  • bruising and discomfort at the injection site
  • flushing or redness in the face for a few hours
  • changes in the color of the skin near the injection site, which may be permanent
  • swelling
  • raised blood pressure for a few days if a person has high blood pressure
  • increased blood sugar levels in people with diabetes
  • development of infections

People can take corticosteroids in different forms. This includes taking steroids orally in the form of pills and tablets, or they can be administered via injections. The length of the corticosteroid treatment may vary depending on the severity of people’s condition and symptoms.

People should take oral pills and tablets soon after a meal as this may help reduce the risk of stomach irritation and related side effects.

Oral pill strength may vary from 1–25 milligrams (mg). Doctors typically recommend taking the prescription in one single dosage once a day. The prescription may vary from 5–60 mg a day. However, in certain cases, the dosage prescribed may be higher.

Doctors recommend avoiding receiving more than 3 injections of steroids in the same area of the body in a period of 12 months and to wait for at least 6 weeks between injections.

People should always follow their doctor’s recommendations when taking steroids.

Here are some more frequently asked questions about steroids and back pain.

Will steroids help with back pain?

Steroids may help reduce back pain. This may depend on the cause and severity of the back pain.

What kind of steroids are used for back pain?

The steroids used for back pain come in the form of injections and oral tablets. Injections can include intravenous (in the vein) or intramuscular (in the muscle) steroids.

How quickly does prednisone work for back pain?

How quickly prednisone takes to work for back pain may vary depending also on the cause of the back pain and other underlying factors. It typically works very quickly, within around 1–4 days.

What is the best steroid for pain?

Prednisone is one of the most common steroids prescribed for treating a wide range of conditions.

However, this medication may not be suitable for everyone. Doctors can recommend the most effective treatment based on the type of underlying condition at the origin of the pain.

Steroids can help reduce inflammation in the back and improve back pain. These medications come in the form of pills and injections.

Prednisolone is a common type of oral steroid and doctors often prescribe it to treat chronic back pain. Prednisolone may take a few days before it starts improving back pain.

The type of medication and the length of the treatment a person’s doctor recommends may vary depending on what’s causing the back pain.

People with back pain can contact their doctor to discuss what could be the most appropriate treatment for their condition.