There’s been a lot of press lately around a mishap at a compounding pharmacy. Batches of a steroid called methylprednisolone acetate were tainted with a fungus that can result in meningitis when used in spinal injections. Luckily only a few have been harmed, but this situation highlights the risk of having something injected into your body as a medical therapy.
Why would a situation like this ever occur? Well, steroids are sometimes injected in and around the spinal cord for spinal cord injuries or in other cases of chronic pain & inflammation. Steroid injections help to reduce inflammation and can aid in the recovery of injuries where chronic swelling is hampering recovery. But as the media has been quick to point out over the past few weeks, corticosteroid injections are not without risk.
Regardless of which corticosteroid is used, the most common side effects to corticosteroid injections are changes in the body’s metabolism and a decreased resistance to infections. If injected into muscle and not around the spine, steroid injections will destroy muscle tissue (which is why doctors can only give a certain number of injections per year). Other side effects are also possible, but more rare or dependent on catching other viral infections while getting treated.
There are a number of reasons that you might seek alternatives to getting injections. For the athlete, having a clean drug test during the competition season is a top goal. Some may have already tried steroid injections and found that pain relief didn’t last. Still others don’t like the idea of drug-based therapies, no matter how close the steroid is to a substance the body naturally produces. And others just might be scared away by media hype.
Acupuncture is a good substitute (or complementary) treatment to steroid injections. It is useful in the treatment of spinal cord injuries and it has a similar inflammation-reducing ability. While steroids reduce inflammation chemically, acupuncture can help reduce inflammation by increasing blood flow around and away from an inflamed area. Toxic metabolites, cellular debris, and congested lymph fluid that help maintain inflammation in an area are shunted away to other parts of the body. This makes acupuncture a natural and drug-free method of pain relief, particularly for pain conditions where swelling and inflammation are present over long periods of time.
While steroid injections have their place, they are not the only option for chronic pain. Acupuncture can and should be considered first, if only to avoid the risks associated with steroid use.