With an epidural injection, you can experience pain relief and reduced inflammation in your back. This procedure places medication directly into the epidural space—the area right around your spinal cord—for maximum results.
Epidural injections are often used for patients suffering from conditions such as:
- Herniated discs
- Bone spurs
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine)
- Back pain that worsens with activity
- Injuries to spinal nerves and surrounding tissues
- Failed back surgery syndrome
Epidural injections can be administered anywhere along the spine, including in the neck. This is an outpatient procedure with minimal preparation and downtime.
How does it work?
An epidural injection is typically made up of steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and anesthetics. When these medications are injected into your epidural space, pain and swelling is reduced around the spinal nerve roots and around damaged nerves. The pain relief that is experienced is prolonged. At first, the relief is only temporary from the anesthetic in the injection. However, over the following few days, the corticosteroid kicks in to provide long-term relief. You will continue to notice gradual, increased pain relief in the few days following the injection.
Imaging guidance, such as computed tomography or fluoroscopy, is often used to help the doctor guide the needle to the most precise spot along your spine. This careful precision helps to provide you with the most relief possible, because your doctor can target the exact area that is responsible for your pain. A local anesthetic will be used on your skin in order to numb the area before injection.
Once the medication is injected, it moves through the epidural space and coats the surrounding nerve roots. The injection itself takes only a few months, but the complete procedure takes a bit longer due to the imaging guidance technology. You might notice a tingling sensation or a slight pressure when the injection is administered, but this is temporary.
Am I a candidate?
Your doctor can help you determine if an epidural injection would be a good choice for you. In general, these types of injections are considered an option if conservative treatments for back pain, such as medication and physical therapy, are not working for you.
The results that are experienced from an epidural injection vary from one patient to the next. Some patients experience complete and permanent relief after an epidural injection, while others require a series of injections in order to experience reduced pain and swelling. The injections eventually wear off, but they can last for up to several months before an additional injection is needed.
If there is more than one possible source of your pain, your doctor may perform an epidural injection to pinpoint the cause. If the epidural injection causes relief in a specific area, it is confirmation that area is contributing to your pain. If the epidural injection is used as a diagnosis tool, the information can help your doctor move forward in determining the best treatment for you.
How do I prepare?
Little to no preparation is needed for an epidural injection. If there is anything you need to do leading up to the procedure, your doctor will let you know. You may need to adjust your eating schedule or change your medications temporarily. You will need to make sure your doctor knows if it is a possibility that you are pregnant. Additionally, you should wear comfortable and loose clothing. You can also plan ahead by making sure that you have a friend or family member to drive you home after the injection.
Is there downtime?
After the injection, you may experience slight discomfort at the injection site. You will be able to return home after your doctor observes that you are reacting well to the injection. While you should try to take it easy for the rest of the day, you will likely be able to return to your normal activities the following day.
Keep in mind that not every patient experiences the same results from an epidural injection. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best treatment approach for your back or neck pain, and you will work together to evaluate how effective the epidural injection is for you.