Epidural Spinal Injection

Epidural spinal injections treat inflammation in the spine. They are most successful when the symptoms are acute,  or less than three months in duration. This treatment tends to be less effective for patients who suffer from chronic inflammation.   Epidural injections treat the symptoms of inflammation, but not the underlying medical condition.

What is it? 

While many physicians acknowledge that epidural spinal injections are only a temporary solution, they recommend this procedure to patients suffering from acute leg or back pain.  Each injection is minimally-invasive and contains a mixture of corticosteroids and a local anesthetic.  Along with this numbing agent,  the corticosteroids are injected into the epidural space, the region surrounding the spinal cord with in the vertebrae.  The corticosteroids remove inflammatory proteins near the spine and temporarily numb nearby nerves.  These injections, however, do not reduce the size of a herniated disc.  Used in conjunction with physical therapy or rehabilitation programs, epidural injections temporarily improve the overall condition of the spine and relieve a patient’s pain.

What should I do to prepare?

As with most procedures, you need to have blood work done before receiving epidural injections.  Patients may continue taking their usual medications,  except for blood thinners and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.  Discuss all medications with your doctor before the procedure.  You may eat a light meal several hours before the procedure is performed.  Make arrangements to have someone take you to and from the appointment.

What happens during the process? 

Patients remain conscious during the procedure, but the doctor will apply a local anesthetic to the injection site as well as give the patient a mild sedative.  The patient will lie face-down on an X-ray table.  With X-ray guidance, the doctor injects the steroid mixture close to the site of inflammation.  Depending on the location of the injury, patients feel little to no pain while receiving the injections, but they may feel some uncomfortable pressure.  The needle will either be placed within the epidural space of the spine or just outside of it. After the needle is correctly placed, the doctor injects the steroid and removes the needle.

What are the risks and potential complications?

Common risks and complications can include spinal headaches due to dural puncture, excessive bleeding or infection, allergic reaction, nerve damage and paralysis, although this is very rare. Side effects of the corticosteroid include weight gain, water retention, hot flashes, mood swings, and elevated blood sugar in those with diabetes.


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