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Minimally Invasive Pain Institute

Pain and Debilitating Conditions


Corticosteroids are a group of anti-inflammatory drugs used in pharmacologic pain management treatment. Short-term acute therapy of corticosteroid medications are often given to provide symptomatic relief of lower back pain, bursitis, cancer pain, and other conditions. Long-term chronic treatment is typically avoided due to the risk of toxicity. Although you can obtain some corticosteroid creams over-the-counter, most medications are prescribed by pain management physicians. Listed below are possible methods of administering corticosteroids medications:

  • Orally in the form of a pill or liquid
  • Intravenously through a syringe and catheter
  • Topically as a cream
  • Hypodermically via a needle injection (i.e. epidural steroid injections)
  • Ocularly as a drop or ointment
  • Rectally via an enema, foam, or suppository

In your body, cortisol is a naturally produced hormone that works to control salt and water balance, regulate metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and suppress inflammation, which in many conditions is the cause of swelling and pain. Corticosteroids are synthetic versions of cortisol and function similarly by blocking the production of substances in the immune system (such as prostaglandins) that trigger allergic and painful inflammatory reactions. Whether administered as injections or pills, corticosteroids are known to have effective analgesic qualities.

Typically, acute treatment with corticosteroids is well tolerated, but in some cases side effects may include hyperglycemia, fluid retention, and insomnia. However, more serious side effects, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and decreased immune response, may occur with chronic administration or when this medication is taken over long periods of time. Before undergoing corticosteroid therapy as treatment for pain relief and control, potential risks and benefits should be discussed with a pain management physician. As with any pharmacologic pain management treatment, dosing will be closely monitored and you will be asked to identify any other medications you are taking and any known allergies.