Learning About Epidural Steroid Injections

Includes Cervical Epidural, Lumbar Epidural, and Thoracic Epidural Steroid Injections

What is an epidural steroid injection?

A doctor may give you a lumbar, cervical, or thoracic epidural steroid injection to decrease pain, tingling, or numbness in your back, buttock, legs, or arms. These might be the result of a neck, back, or disc problem.

The injections goes directly into your epidural space. This is the area in your back and neck, around your spinal cord.

This injection may have both a local anesthetic and a steroid medicine. Or, it may only have a steroid. Local anesthetic medicines numb your nerves right away for a short time. Steroids reduce swelling and pain, but they can take a few days to start working.

Some people get a series of these injections over weeks or months.

How is an epidural steroid injection done?

The doctor may use an imaging test before or during your injection. This can be a MRI, a CT scan, or an X-ray. These tests can show where your nerve problems are.

After finding the right spot, the doctor may inject a numbing medicine into the skin where you will get the steroid injection. Then he or she puts the needle for the steroid into the numbed area. You may feel some pressure. You could feel some stinging or burning during the injection.

It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to perform this injection. You will probably go home about 20 to 30 minutes after you have gotten it. You will need a driver for this procedure.

What can you expect after a lumbar epidural?

If your injection had local anesthetic and a steroid, your legs may feel heavy or numb right after. You will probably be able to walk, but you may need to be extra careful. Take care not to lose your balance and be sure to follow the doctor’s instructions.

If your injection contained local anesthetic, you may feel better right away. But this pain relief will last only a few hours. Your pain will probably return. This is because the steroids have not started working yet. Before the steroids start to work, your back may be sore for a few days.

These injections don’t always work. When they do, it takes 1 to 5 days. This pain relief can last for several days to a few months or longer.

You may want to do less than normal for a few days. But you may also be able to return to our daily routine.

Some people are dizzy or feel sick to their stomach after getting this injection. These symptoms usually do not last very long.

If your pain is better, you may be able to keep doing your normal activities or physical therapy. But try not to overdo it, even if your back pain has improved a lot. If your pain is only a little better or if it comes back, your doctor may recommend another injection in a few weeks. If your pain has not changed, talk to your doctor about other treatment options.

Side effects from an epidural steroid injection include: headache, fever, or infection. Serious side effects are rare, but they can include: stroke, paralysis, or loss of vision.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicine you take.

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