a hypodermic needle inserted into a vial of medicine

Q. I have stenosis in my spine, degenerative back disease and arthritis. Some days I can walk for awhile but most of the time walking and normal activities are very painful. I hate steroid shots. The benefit seems short lived and I worry about long-term side effects.
Are there any home remedies that might be helpful for the inflammation and pain that has interfered with my ability to get around?

A. We understand your concern about steroid side effects. Doctors seem to think that when they inject a corticosteroid into the spine or a joint (hips, knees, elbows or shoulders) that it says put. We strongly suspect that corticosteroids migrate into the surrounding bone and increase the risk for weakening and osteoporosis, thereby increasing the underlying problems. People with arthritis of the joint do not need to have the bone become weaker. One expert in the field once told us that steroids “melt bone,” and we think he was not far off with that vivid description.
Other side effects of injected cortisone or other corticosteroids include:


  • Fluid retention, edema, sodium retention
  • Headache, dizziness
  • Anxiety, nervousness, irritability, insomnia
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar (glucose)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of potassium
  • Infection, immune system suppression
  • Osteopenia, osteoporosis

When it comes to home remedies, there is not a lot that can ease the pressure on nerves caused by spinal stenosis or bony narrowing of the spinal column. A general anti-inflammatory regimen does make sense, however. Some of the remedies we generally recommend to ease inflammation include:

  • Tart cherries
  • Almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Walnuts
  • Pomegranates
  • Blueberries
  • Salmon
  • Bluefish
  • Ginger
  • Vitamin D
  • Gin-soaked raisins
  • Certo & grape juice
  • Apple cider vinegar, apple & grape juice
  • Turmeric
  • Boswellia
  • Fish oil & green-lipped mussels
  • Acupuncture

To learn more details about such non-drug approaches we suggest our books, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy or Quick & Handy Remedies.
We hope one or more of the remedies we have suggested will be helpful for easing your discomfort. And do keep your eyes peeled for a People’s Pharmacy update. There is a new study that will be published in a couple of days revealing some scary information about the long-term consequences of steroid shots in the spine.

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  1. Sue

    Just wanted to find some information on steroid shots. I found some good information on your website. I will be looking into acupuncture instead.

  2. Carmen

    I been suffering with two herniated disc in the neck a herniated bulge in my lower back and pinched nerve since February 2014. Going to physical therapy twice a week now. I have taken several steroid injections to my spine. The first injection to the lower back didn’t relieve any of my pain. If anything made it worst. The pins and needles feeling would radiate down both legs. Now in 9/14 I received my first injection to my cervical area it was painful and it burned the center of my chest. Dr said that other patients have experienced this. Then I started experiencing this itchy hive around my body that also would welt. Didn’t think much of it figured the weather changing to cold might be causing my itchiness. But then I receive my second shot to my lower back and the itchiness have gotten worst. I took blood work that same day. It shows my white blood cells are like high. My lymphs are low and my polyps a lil high. What can this possibly be is it a allergic reaction to the shot?

  3. med

    Hi DMG, were you already diagnosed with diverticulosis before the injection? I have severe diverticulosis, had an injection, my first, 5 months ago and had no problem.
    Now I am scheduled for another as pain is radiating down my left leg and I am just getting over a flare up of what I believe to be Diverticulitis and not sure I should so soon after flare up!

  4. Torrence

    I think you making a big mistake. Back surgery today is NOTHING like it was years ago. I had back surgery many years ago and spent 29 days in the hospital. Today is it our-patient surgery with very little time off your normal functions. The shots can do a lot of damage. It did for me when I went through the same thing as you. I had them for 5 months and lost about 50% of my muscle tone. Think about and get the operation and stay away from the shots. Good luck!

  5. RH

    Amen, Dr. Gainan, to all of that! :)

  6. RH

    Great response, Leslie. I am glad I am not having any injections. My doctor told me that Medicare has cut way back since January 2014 on back injections due to costs and cutbacks. That’s alright with me. I keep hearing too much about people getting diabetes and high cholesterol because of them.

  7. RH

    I tried Turmeric for one week, but didn’t like it. Hurt my stomach more than my 2 a day advil. So, I will be returning to advil, but also including more of the foods up above.

  8. Linda K.

    I received a steroid injection in each of my knees six days ago. I have been suffering many of these side effects. How long do the side effects usually last?

  9. Karine H.

    I got my 1st shot of steroids in my L5 disc/sciatica last Thursday. Got signs of nausea all week and tonight, 6 days later, I actually got sick. No heartburn at all. Is it normal?

  10. acme4kids

    My hubby has a pinched nerve and herniated disk in the L3-L4 region, this is his second steroid inj. and he is showing symptoms of a possible side effect. He’s been aggressive, can’t sleep at night, falls asleep while sitting up or standing tho. And his ankles are swollen.
    The pain clinic says yes its a side effect, but. Is there anything we can do?? The injection alleviated some of his pain, but I’m not sure this is worth it.
    Anyone else experience the same thing? I’d love your input. I’ve taken away his narcotics thinking. It would help. He’s diabetic, and is taking 1,200mg of neurontin four times a day.

  11. mr

    When the article was published on November 30th you said that the results of a study would be available in a few days but it is now December 9th.
    Will you have them soon?

  12. Melinda

    As with anything like turmeric or fish oil: start with a low dose so your body can become used to it. Increase dose over time. I usually wait a 1-2 weeks to increase the dose.

  13. SLK

    I tried turmeric for inflammation but it caused me severe diarrhea, so be careful. I had a laminectomy 4 years ago and it was very successful.

  14. DMG

    How true it is that steroid injections are not always the answer. I had an episode of severe diverticulosis after a back treatment. The steroids masked the symptoms of the infection, and I ended up in the hospital, and REALLY sick. I won’t have another treatment unless I can’t stand up any more.

  15. Phil Gainan D.C.

    As a Chiropractor, I have seen many people receive various tratments with potentialy bad side effects. So many patients present with symptoms that respond very nicely to much less invasive techniques. These techniques consist of Low Level Laser Theapy, manipulation, Graston Technique ( a soft tissue manipulation technique), stretching, muscle re-education, kinesio tape. This is just a few modalities that many times are effective. I believe calling massage, Chiropractic, etc. alternative is incorrect. Rather Chiropactic, massage, etc should be considered first. In other words exhaust the non-invasive techniques first.

  16. Jim

    The Turmeric and Bromelain OTC pills sound interesting. Thanks for the tip.

  17. Jim

    I spent 6 months in rehab after my laminectomy and the activities they had me do were excruciating and made my condition worse!

  18. Jim

    Previous to my laminectomy, my inversion table helped. Now it makes me worse.

  19. Susan

    When an orthopedic surgeon injected my arthritic knee with a steroid a few years ago, he told me it wouldn’t migrate into the rest of my body. I had been concerned since oral prednisone (which I’d had for asthma in the past) always made my blood sugar skyrocket. After just a few hours, I had no pain and felt euphoric and felt like I could go hiking and do stuff I hadn’t done for years. But when I checked my blood sugar the next day it was over 300 and stayed high for at least a week. Never again!

  20. Jim

    I was diagnosed with stenosis of the spine. After several rounds of various types of injections, nothing helped, so I let them do a 4 level laminectomy on me. they made me 10 times worse. I now cannot walk more than 10-20 feet without serious pain. I take Vicoprofen which helps slightly. They now say I need a 4 level fusion which, in my mind, is a very serious surgery. For now I have opted to live with the pain rather than have them completely cripple me with another surgery!
    I plan to see a neurosurgeon soon and hope she is enlightened enough to think of alternative medicine such as acupunture!

  21. Marti W

    I have had achillies fasciitis for about 5 years. My ankle was so swollen and I had steroid injections for years. They would help for a few months then back to the pain. I found out about turmeric & Bromelain (450 mg) pills and have been on 2 a day (each after a meal) for nearly a year now. My heel has completely healed up and my other joints are doing so much better. I had tried many of the home remedies with no relief. This has worked wonders. They are an OTC purchase.

  22. jmd

    While I enjoy your articles so much, I wish there were more answers that really work for those of us who are older, who have fought these diseases for years, and are suffering with constant pain, hate taking drugs, but cannot take the pain level. I was diagnosed with scoliosis at 28, and told to exercise, it wouldn’t get worse because I had already reached puberty. WRONG – tho I exercised and tried to eat healthy, the l7 degree curvature kept increasing until at 61 it was 45 degrees, pain excruciating, affecting my breathing.
    All thru these years I had exercised, rarely took any drugs at all, and fought the pain. I had surgery at 61, two rods, 18 screws, 3 body cages, etc. fusing T-11 thru S-1. The surgeon said he did as much as my body could take in the 7 1/2 hour surgery. 18 months later, I had to have a second surgery because the screw loosene at F-5. He then connected the rods to the pelvic bones, etc. Since then, I have a much better quality of life; I can breath and stand very straight – look very healthy; however, the pain (which I knew they couldn’t relieve in full) has gotten so bad I was getting very depressed for the first time in my life, and could not talk myself out of it. So, I finally gave in to taking celebrex 200 mg for pain and up to 4 or 5 tramadol a day for the pain.
    I’ve been on this regement for 7 months, and have to say, I am doing better than I have in many years. Yet, I worry about what the meds are doing to my body, osteperosis, etc., BUT WHAT DO YOU DO? I would so appreciate any comments you might have to help me. Thank you so much for The Peoples Pharmacy!

  23. Patricia K.

    I also have had many steroid injections over the years, the last one in a finger joint a year ago, also have spinal stenosis. To make a long story short have had gut issues starting in my early 70’s, I finally gave up on ever finding a reason/fix and have emininated dairy and gluten from my diet. Most of back pain and finger/knee arthitis joint pain as disappeared in the last 6 months. I can now stand/walk for much longer periods of time and am back to a lot more gardening and activities that require lots of movement, can walk through a grocery store. It was really hard to give up some of my very favorite foods but losing the years worth of pain I dealt with is making life much more enjoyable.

  24. Leslie

    Also worth investigating: a consultation with a physical medicine and rehab doctor (PM&R) rather than an orthopedic specialist, and exercise programs focused on back pain relief. Yoga with an experienced teacher is often a good place to start (look for someone with an RYT-500 certification who’s experienced in this area). Many folks experiencing back pain are often unfit due to inactivity and sarcopenia (loss of muscle due to age) and addressing this issue often helps back pain resulting from a variety of causes. Maintaining a healthy weight can help as well by reducing load, although I acknowledge that chronic pain makes this more difficult for a variety of reasons.

  25. M J C

    My aunt had serious spinal stenosis. When she stopped drinking flouridated water, she received some relief from pain, and the stenosis did not worsen.

  26. Ken J. Jr. RN (ret)

    I have been getting ESIs (Epidural Steroid Injections) every three to four months for the past two years, also for severe spinal stenosis @ L4-5. While aware of the possible side effects I am pleased with the relief, albeit temporary, I get from them.
    The next step is surgery. I had lower back surgery forty years ago @ L5-S1, and while it worked just as intended, now at age sixty six, I would rather avoid surgery if possible.
    I find that hot showers give temporary relief, allowing me to sleep at night, when the pain starts to return. Then I schedule another injection.
    Some people claim good results with chiropractic techniques. As a side note. When the doc announces “time out” to be sure we all know who, what, where, why, etc. were going to do this, he/she also reads the name of the steroid’s manufacturer to confirm it’s not from NECC. Good luck.

  27. Penny H.

    In 1999 I was having back pain and went to a doctor who insisted the best thing for it was steroid shots. I had three shots spread out over a three week period. For all that I got one day of relief. I also got diabetes, high blood pressure and swelling in my face that left me almost unrecognizable. The swelling took about a year to go down.
    My advice to anyone contemplating steroid shots is to refuse and if necessary change doctors. I wish I had.

  28. Torrence

    I had a serious problem with my back and received the Steroid shots over some 5 months. All this time I was loosing muscle. After the fifth shot the pain went away but the damage was done. The sad part is I was told by a back physician that he could have taken care of the problem in out-patient surgery. I learned too late the truth to get a second opinion.
    I suggest anyone with with joint problems to certainly try GINGER and most of all GLUCOSAMINE. It’s sad to me that many doctors don’t understand the effects of many procedures and go ahead and do them anyway. One doctor told me after I had received a shot in my knee from him that he had proscribed GLUCOSAMINE to many of his patients. I haven’t had to go back for any more shots since taking GINGER and GLUCOSAMINE. May not work for you but it did for me.

  29. Annie

    Re: spinal stenosis. I discovered that an inversion table, which allows you to hang upside down, stretching out the spine, relieves the pressure on the nerve. I used it every day until the pain ceased and now use it only to stretch out my back when I’ve done too much gardening or lifting.

  30. CAH

    My husband had a similar issue, including the steroid injections, and a looming threat of surgery–when he was fortunate enough to find a neurosurgeon who sent him to be treated with acupuncture. He followed this advice–even though we both were skeptics about alternate medical treatment. He ended up being treated by acupuncture for 3 years with a remarkable response–from barely walking and much pain to resumption of normal activities. Incidentally, he is severely allergic to Aspirin, and any related NSAIDS, so that form of treatment isn’t possible. It is a treatment to consider–minimal risk for the possibility of much gain.

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