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Epidural steroid injections for long-term back pain

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have long-term back pain. It tells you about epidural steroid injections, a treatment used for long-term back pain. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

We don't know. The research on this treatment is too weak to draw firm conclusions.

What are they?

Epidural steroid injections are used to reduce inflammation and pain in your back. Doctors inject a steroid (which reduces inflammation) into the area between the nerves of the spinal cord and the lining surrounding them (epidural space). You may have the injection with or without a local anaesthetic.

Epidural steroids are usually injected by anaesthetists or other medical specialists. It's unlikely that your GP will inject them.

The full name for these drugs is corticosteroids. They are not the same as the anabolic steroids sometimes used by body builders. Corticosteroids are similar to the chemicals made naturally by your body.

How can they help?

We don't know whether epidural steroid injections can help with back pain. There isn't much good research on this treatment. [139]

How do they work?

These drugs may numb the nerve roots and reduce any inflammation, but no one really knows how they work to treat back pain.

Can they be harmful?

All epidural injections have risks. For example, studies in people with some types of spine pain have found that epidural injections can cause infections. [140] It's important these injections are given by an experienced doctor. [141]

How good is the research on epidural steroid injections for long-term back pain?

We don't know if epidural steroid injections work. The evidence isn't strong either way. There have been only a few studies and they have had few people in them. [139] This means that we can't draw any firm conclusions.



Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.

local anaesthetic

A local anaesthetic is a painkiller that's used to numb one part of your body. You usually get local anaesthetics as injections.

For more terms related to Back pain


For references related to Back pain click here.
Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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