Harvard Men's Health Watch

Steroid injections for sciatica: Mild, short-term relief

Injections of corticosteroids can temporarily relieve the pain of a herniated disk, but offer little long-term benefit, finds a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

When a spinal disk bulges outward, or herniates, it may compress the nerves that branch outward to the rest of the body. This can cause shooting pain in the leg, known as sciatica. A common treatment for acute sciatica is injecting a corticosteroid drug near the bulging disk. This calms the inflammation and pain.

Researchers combined the findings of 23 different clinical trials. People with sciatica were chosen at random to receive either an injection of a steroid medication or an identical but inactive placebo injection. The steroids reduced leg pain and disability in the short term (up to three months after the treatment). But the amount of relief was less than what would be considered a medically important effect, rating three to six points on a scale of one to 100. After a year, there was no difference between people who got steroid injections and those who did not.

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