Epidural Steroid Injection
Epidural Steroid Injection is an injection of long lasting steroid (“cortisone”) in the Epidural space which is the area which surrounds the spinal cord and the nerve roots.
The steroid injected reduces the inflammation and/or swelling of nerves in the Epidural space. This may in turn reduce pain, tingling & numbness and other symptoms caused by nerve inflammation, irritation and swelling.
How long does the injection take?
The actual injection takes only a few minutes.
What is actually injected?
The injection consists of a mixture of local anesthetic (like lidocaine or bupivacaine) and the steroid medication (Depo-medrol®, Celestone-Soluspan).
Will the injection hurt?
The procedure involves inserting a needle through skin and deeper tissues (like a “tetanus shot”) so, there is very little discomfort involved. However, we numb the skin and deeper tissues with a local anesthetic using a very thin needle prior to inserting the Epidural needle. Also, the tissues in the midline have less nerve supply, so usually you feel pressure and not much pain
What should I expect after the injection?
Immediately after the injection, you may feel your legs slightly heavy and may be numb. Also, you may notice that your pain may be gone or quite less. This is due to the local anesthetic injected. This will last only for a few hours. Your pain will return and you may have a “sore back” for a day or two. This is due to the mechanical process of needle insertion as well as initial irritation form the steroid itself. You should start noticing pain relief starting the 3rd day or so.
What should I do after the procedure?
We advise the patients to take it easy for a day or so after the procedure. Perform activities as tolerated by you. If you feel relief after the epidural we caution you not to jump into full activity immediately but go through some rehabilitation to strengthen weakened areas first.
Can I go back to work the next day?
You should be able to unless the procedure was complicated. Usually you will feel some back pain or have a “sore back” only.
How long the effect of the medication last?
The immediate effect is usually from the local anesthetic injected. This wears off in a few hours. The cortisone starts working in about 3 to 5 days and its effect can last for several days to a few months.
How many injections do I need to have?
If the first injection does not relieve your symptoms in about a week to two weeks, you may be recommended to have one more injection. Similarly If the second injection does not relieve your symptoms in about a week to two weeks, you may be recommended to have a third injection.
Can I have more than three injections?
In a six month period, we generally do not perform more than three injections. This is because the medication injected lasts for about six months. If three injections have not helped you much, it is very unlikely that you will get nay further benefit from more injections. Also, giving more injections will increase the likelihood of side effects from cortisone.
Will the Epidural Steroid Injection help me?
It is very difficult to predict if the injection will indeed help you or not. Generally speaking, the patients who have “radicular symptoms” (like sciatica) respond better to the injections than the patients who have only back pain. Similarly, the patients with a recent onset of pain may respond much better than the ones with a long standing pain. Also, the patients with back pain mainly due to bony abnormality may not respond adequately.
What are the risks and side effects?
Generally speaking, this procedure is safe. However, with any procedure there are risks, side effects, and possibility of complications. The most common side effect is pain – which is temporary. The other risk involve spinal puncture with headaches, infection, bleeding inside the Epidural space with nerve damage, worsening of symptoms etc. The other risks are related to the side effects of cortisone: These include weight gain, increase in blood sugar (mainly in diabetics), water retention, suppression of body’s own natural production of cortisone etc.
Who should not have this injection?
If you are allergic to any of the medications to be injected, if you are on a blood thinning medication (e.g. Coumadin, Plavix) we will have you contact your cardiologist and get permission to stop taking these drugs for 1 week prior to your epidural, or if you have an active infection going on, you should not have the injection.