Steroid Shots and Your Health: Take Two

Back in 2010 I posted a blog entry on cortisone steroid shots: see
my thoughts “On Cortisone Injections” and a related New York Times article.

Roll forward to 2012: Last month, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published an overview for the internet reading public about these same injections.  In the wake of the fungus contaminated steroid injectibles, produced by a local New England compounding pharmacy which have killed 31 people and maimed over 400 more, yours and my concerns are even more relevant.

In short, cortisone steroid shots often don’t relieve pain. But in fact, research tells us they weaken tissues at the injection site, they’re expensive, and we know they hurt — no research needed there!  If you have pain, starting your recovery with a steroid injection may not ease your suffering.

Here’s the NIH’s recent write up on cortisone injections for sciatic pain.

researchers found that epidural injections (into the spine) of corticosteroids had no long- or short-term effect on sciatica back pain, and such a small short-term effect on leg pain it would make no difference to the patient.

“I think it’s pretty clear that this treatment is not good to do,” said Chris Maher, of The George Institute for Global Health in Sydney, Australia, who worked on the study.

“Spinal steroid shots may have little effect on sciatica,”
by Andrew M. Seaman
November 12, 2012

The recent history of dead, wounded, maimed and still suffering thousands who have received steroid injections raises questions of appropriate distribution of medical resources, medical ethics, exploitative pharmacy sales and marketing forces impacting our health care, and simple good sense.  That sounds dramatic but here’s a Globe article on the depth of our troubles.

And here’s my thoughts on what to do when we have pain…

To start, take a deep breath and remember:
Good health does not live in a bottle: it can’t be consumed or medicated.  We can’t buy it, eat it or steal it.  Good health is a *way* of life; when we have good health we’re able to work, play and relate to the things and people we love.  When our emotional or physical experience prevents us from being in a good relationship with things that bring joy we have lost “good health,” or at least misplaced it.  So then what?

First: I think we should look inward and search for the cause; I believe the vast majority of people can find the answer to the age old question of  “why do I hurt” within themselves.

For me personally, managing my weight has made a huge difference in my physical well being.  I knew that being overweight was a problem, but I didn’t think I’d like changing how I ate.  I was wrong! I LOVE my food and how I’m eating.  For some of us, looking at how we react to things we don’t have control over, like our partner’s employment (or lack there of!), national politics, traffic, or our children’s choices, is key to understanding why we hurt.  Other people’s behaviors don’t make us sick and hurt: our responses and reactions do!

Second: Seek support. We may need to ask family, friends or therapists of different stripes what they think is going on too. Gather information.  Find out what other folks who have similar situations have done and what they found helpful. Go to the public library and learn more about your issue.  Here’s a link to Massachusetts internet library resource

Decisions Tools

Third: Make a plan. Decide what should change and what support we need to make those changes.  Being overweight or not getting enough of the right exercise are the two most common reasons for pain — both psychological and physical pain.  The benefits of losing weight or exercising won’t ease pain immediately, but they may be your end goal.  Many conditions can be managed and even cured with a combination of daily exercise and weight management: things like diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, joint pain, plantar fasicitis, heartburn, snoring, depression, anxiety, skin infections….

When making decisions about getting care, start with the interventions that have the least risks.  Remember the Hippocratic oath’s phrase “first, do no harm.” And here’s where acupuncture fits in.  Research and thousands of years of acupuncture treatments show that acupuncture improves our immune systems — making it more efficient to fight disease, minimizing allergies and autoimmune conditions where our immunity is over-revved — improves sleep, lowers pain, and helps us relax.  These benefits are the foundation of good health, so for most Americans, regular acupuncture should be at the heart of their personal health plans.

Check out the “Decision Aid Tool” below that can be used to help understand options, risks and benefits as well as understand when it’s time to escalate — or de-escalate! — our health care choices.

Get out of pain, take charge of you well being and get healthy!

To your good health!


About the Author

Acupuncturist & herbalist. My goal is to make acupuncture care accessible to folks with ordinary incomes. Student midwife. Gardener. Teacher. Aspiring goat herder!