For temporary relief of neck or back pain, epidural injections combined with medication are an effective pain management remedy. Administered into the affected area, the injections ease inflammation and irritation in a way that's more direct than results from oral medications that have to travel through the bloodstream to the affected area. Epidural injections can be considered a minimally invasive procedure in the sense that there's very little discomfort from the epidural injection itself or disruption to nearby tissues. Full results are often felt three to four days after the injection.
Relief from Back or Neck Pain
Because of the many possible sources of back and neck pain, accurate diagnosis of the source of discomfort increases the odds epidural injections will be effective. A common cause of both back and neck pain is pressure on nerves. In the neck, radiating nerve pain is referred to as cervical radiculopathy, often referred to as a pinched nerve. When pain originating in the lower back causes numbness, weakness, or tingling sensations in legs, thighs, the buttocks, or feet, it's known as sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy. Epidural injections tend to work best on back or neck pain resulting from some type of nerve compression.
How Epidural Injections Work
Medication, often in the form of a corticosteroid, is what makes an epidural injection work. The injection is placed into the epidural space around the spinal cord. A CT scan or fluoroscopy is sometimes used to provide additional guidance when the injection is administered. Delivered with a general anesthetic to ease discomfort from the injection, the medication reduces inflammation in tissues around the affected nerve. In addition to working on nerves already irritated, epidural injections may protect other nerves in the affected area. Temporary relief from the injection often allows enough time for nerve roots to heal. Chronic back or neck pain that hasn't responded well to other medications may be managed with epidural injections. Injections may also be recommended to treat back or neck pain resulting from:
• Herniated discs
• Slipped discs (spondylolisthesis)
• Injuries to spinal nerves
• Spinal fracture
• Bone spurs
Epidural Injection Success Rates
When properly placed in the correct location with guidance from a special camera (fluoroscope), success rates with epidural injections are high. More than half of all patients who receive the shot for relief from lower back pain report positive results. Patients often report more significant results when the injections are used to treat radiating pain rather than non-specific pain without a clear source.
Epidural injections often make it easier for patients to actively participate in physical therapy or perform beneficial exercises without distracting pain. Results experienced with the injections will depend on the intensity of a patient's pain, the source of the discomfort, and whether or not there are underlying conditions such as diabetes that may affect how pain is felt. The effects of the injections can last anywhere from several weeks to months. For most possible uses, epidural injections can be safely repeated three or four times a year.