Corticosteroids And Anesthetics For Spinal Disc Pain:
Side Effects

(Cortisone Injections, Epidurals And Oral Steroids)

What you will learn in this article:

- Corticosteroids and anesthetics, including cortisone injections, epidurals, and oral steroids, offer significant relief from spinal disc pain, but come with potential side effects.

- Cortisone injections directly target inflammation, providing rapid relief, but can lead to side effects ranging from immediate pain at the injection site to long-term tendon weakening.

- Epidurals, while commonly associated with childbirth, serve as a potent method for spinal pain relief, but can result in side effects like blood pressure drops or potential long-term bone weakening.

- Oral steroids suppress the body's immune response to reduce inflammation, but carry systemic implications, from digestive system effects to long-term risks like osteoporosis.

- Making informed decisions by understanding these side effects and discussing potential risks with healthcare providers is crucial for optimal spinal health.

Corticosteroids and anesthetics have long been the go-to for many seeking respite from the agonizing grip of spinal disc pain.

These treatments, ranging from cortisone injections to epidurals and oral steroids, often come as a beacon of hope.

But, as with most potent interventions, they carry their own baggage of side effects.

This article aims to pull back the curtain on these side effects, offering a comprehensive look at what one might encounter when opting for these treatments.

From the immediate aftermath of a procedure to the long-term implications, we'll dissect each treatment, ensuring you're equipped with the knowledge to navigate your spinal health journey.

Whether you're on the fence about a particular treatment or just keen to learn, understanding these side effects is a step towards making empowered decisions.

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List of Side Effects

Corticosteroids and Anesthetics Side Effects

The following is a list of the possible side effects that can occur for this group of medications.

Everyone is different and you may experience a side effect that is not on the list.

If you are experiencing a new symptom while taking any of these medications, you should bring that to your doctor’s attention immediately.

"Cortisone flare," a condition where the injected cortisone crystallizes and can cause a brief period of pain worse than before the shot

Whitening of the skin where the injection is given


Patients with diabetes may have a transient increase in their blood sugar

Thinning of the joint cartilage

Weakening of the ligaments of the joint


Loss of bowel and bladder control (when done in the lumbar spine)

Dural puncture, which leads to a headache


Nerve damage

Allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat

Problems with your vision

Swelling, rapid weight gain, feeling short of breath

Severe depression, unusual thoughts or behavior, seizure (convulsions)

Bloody or tarry stools, coughing up blood

Pancreatitis (severe pain in your upper stomach spreading to your back, nausea and vomiting, fast heart rate)

Low potassium (confusion, uneven heart rate, extreme thirst, increased urination, leg discomfort, muscle weakness or limp feeling)

Dangerously high blood pressure (severe headache, blurred vision, buzzing in your ears, anxiety, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath, uneven heartbeats, seizure)

Sleep problems (insomnia), mood changes

Acne, dry skin, thinning skin, bruising or discoloration

Slow wound healing

Increased sweating

Headache, dizziness, spinning sensation

Nausea, stomach pain, bloating

Changes in the shape or location of body fat (especially in your arms, legs, face, neck, breasts, and waist) 

Cortisone Injections

Cortisone injections, a subset of corticosteroids, have emerged as a favored tool in the arsenal against spinal disc pain.

These injections primarily target inflammation, the root culprit behind many spinal issues.

By delivering a concentrated dose of corticosteroid directly to the inflamed area, they offer rapid and often profound relief.

It's like dousing a raging fire with a bucket of water; the inflammation recedes, and with it, the pain.

But, as with all potent interventions, cortisone injections come with their share of side effects.

In the short term, one might experience pain or swelling at the injection site, a phenomenon often termed as 'cortisone flare'.

Some might also notice a temporary spike in blood sugar levels, especially those with diabetes.

There's also the risk of infection, though it's relatively rare.

The long-term implications, however, demand more attention.

Repeated cortisone injections can weaken tendons, making them more susceptible to rupture.

There's also the potential for skin thinning around the injection site or even a lightening of the skin.

More concerning is the possibility of osteoporosis or bone death, especially if the injections are frequent.

It's a delicate balance, weighing the immediate relief against potential future complications.

As with all medical decisions, it's essential to be informed and consult closely with healthcare professionals.


While epidurals are often synonymous with childbirth, their application extends far beyond the delivery room.

In the context of spinal health, epidurals serve as a potent method to deliver pain-relieving drugs directly into the epidural space of the spine.

This targeted approach can provide significant relief, especially for those grappling with chronic spinal pain or conditions like sciatica.

However, as with any medical procedure, epidurals come with their set of side effects.

Immediately post-procedure, it's not uncommon to experience a drop in blood pressure, leading to feelings of dizziness or even fainting.

Some might also notice a headache, often resulting from the leakage of spinal fluid.

There's also the risk of nerve damage, though it's a rare occurrence.

Looking at the long-term picture, repeated epidural injections might lead to a weakening of the bones in the injected area, increasing the risk of fractures.

There's also the potential for an epidural abscess, a pocket of pus that forms in the spine.

While these complications are relatively rare, they underscore the importance of being informed and vigilant.

Regular consultations with healthcare professionals and monitoring for any unusual symptoms post-procedure can go a long way in ensuring one's safety and well-being.

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Oral Steroids

Oral steroids, a class of powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, have carved a niche for themselves in the world of spinal pain management.

These pills work by suppressing the body's immune response, thereby reducing inflammation and the associated pain.

Think of them as the peacekeepers, stepping in when the body's natural defense mechanisms go into overdrive, causing more harm than good.

But, as with all potent interventions, oral steroids come with a laundry list of side effects.

One of the most immediate effects is on the digestive system.

It's not uncommon to experience indigestion, appetite changes, or even stomach ulcers.

Some might also notice weight gain, primarily due to water retention and increased appetite.

The systemic implications of oral steroids are vast.

Over time, they can lead to a weakened immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections.

There's also the risk of osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become brittle and fragile.

High blood pressure, mood swings, and even mental health issues like depression or anxiety can also manifest with prolonged use.

And for those with diabetes, oral steroids can be particularly challenging, often leading to elevated blood sugar levels.

It's a complex web of potential risks, emphasizing the need for regular monitoring and consultation with healthcare professionals.

While oral steroids can offer significant relief, it's essential to be aware of the trade-offs and navigate the treatment journey with eyes wide open.

Making Informed Decisions

Navigating the world of spinal pain treatments can feel like walking a tightrope.

On one side, there's the allure of pain relief, a chance to reclaim a life unhindered by discomfort.

On the other, the shadow of potential side effects looms large.

Striking a balance between these two is the crux of making informed decisions.

Understanding the side effects isn't just about being aware; it's about being prepared, knowing what to expect, and having a plan in place should things go awry.

When considering any treatment, especially potent ones like corticosteroids or anesthetics, open communication with healthcare providers is paramount.

Arm yourself with questions. Ask about both the short-term and long-term implications.

Discuss alternatives, weigh the pros and cons, and always, always prioritize your well-being.

Remember, it's not just about asking the right questions, but about understanding the answers.

The journey towards pain relief is deeply personal. What works for one might not work for another.

But amidst this uncertainty, one thing remains clear: the importance of being informed.

By understanding the potential risks, discussing them openly with professionals, and continually assessing the balance between relief and repercussions, you place yourself in the best position to make choices that align with your health and life goals.

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Cortisone injections have gained popularity because they directly target inflammation, the main culprit behind many spinal issues. By delivering a concentrated dose of corticosteroid to the inflamed area, they offer rapid and profound relief. But, like everything, they come with their own set of challenges.

While epidurals are commonly associated with childbirth, their use extends far beyond. In the realm of spinal health, epidurals serve as a potent method to deliver pain-relieving drugs directly to the spine, offering significant relief from chronic conditions like sciatica.

Oral steroids can feel like a magic pill, suppressing the body's immune response and reducing inflammation. However, their systemic implications, from effects on the digestive system to potential long-term risks like osteoporosis, make it essential to approach them with caution.

Understanding the side effects is the first step. Open communication with healthcare providers, arming yourself with questions, and understanding the answers will help you weigh the immediate allure of pain relief against potential future complications.

Absolutely! While corticosteroids and anesthetics have their place, there's a rising wave of holistic approaches that focus on non-steroidal options for pain relief. From physical therapy to acupuncture and chiropractic, there's a world of natural treatments waiting to be explored.

Being informed is key. By understanding potential risks, discussing them openly with professionals, and continually assessing the balance between relief and repercussions, you're placing yourself in the best position to make choices that align with your health goals.


B. T. ter Meulen, E. Maas, Amrita Vyas, M. H. van der Vegt, Koo de Priester, M. D. de Boer, M. V. van Tulder, H. Weinstein, R. Ostelo (2017). Treatment of acute sciatica with transforaminal epidural corticosteroids and local anesthetic: design of a randomized controlled trial

R. Singh, Nandkishor B Goyal, Amit C Patil, Akash R Metkar (2021). Epidural caudal steroid injection in low backache and lumbar radiculopathy at tertiary care centre

Savaş Şencan, I. Edipoglu, Gonca Yazici, Feyza Nur Yucel, O. Gunduz (2020). "Are Foraminal Stenosis Severity and Herniation Level Associated with the Treatment Success of Cervical Interlaminar Epidural Steroid Injection?

P. Shinu, M. Morsy, Anroop B Nair, et al. (2022). "Novel Therapies for the Treatment of Neuropathic Pain: Potential and Pitfalls." 

F. Zaina, C. Tomkins-Lane, E. Carragee, S. Negrini (2016). "Surgical versus non-surgical treatment for lumbar spinal stenosis." 

Dr. Ron Daulton, Jr.

About the Author

Dr. Ron Daulton, Jr., an acclaimed chiropractor, esteemed educator, and inspiring author, has devoted his life to fostering understanding of natural healthcare and enhancing well-being across society.

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