Epidurals are often associated with childbirth, but the reality is that your epidural space is part of your anatomy, not a type of injection. This space contains small blood vessels and fat, and it’s located between a membrane called the dura mater and the vertebral wall. Administering anesthetic medication into this space can help ease pain during childbirth, but when steroids are injected, it can help ease chronic back pain.
In this article, our team of providers here at International Spine, Pain & Performance Center explains what epidural steroid injections are and when you might consider one for chronic back pain.
Learning more about epidural steroids
Epidural injections are a nonsurgical pain management option for chronic back pain. An epidural injection involves administering a combination of a local anesthetic with a corticosteroid. The local anesthetic provides pain relief, while the steroid reduces inflammation. The anesthetic and the steroids are contained in a saline solution 一 a fluid that washes out your spine and helps to flush out some of the inflammation-causing proteins in your spine. Together, these compounds help reduce your pain and inflammation and help restore your function without surgery.
Although epidural steroids aren’t surgical procedures, they aren't the first line of defense against chronic back pain. The International Spine, Pain & Performance Center physician uses fluoroscopy to help guide the needle to your epidural space as close to the source of your pain. If you are given medication to relax, you’ll need to arrange for a friend or family member to take you home.
When to consider an epidural steroid for back pain
When should you consider this procedure? It might be the right solution for you if:
You have a qualifying condition
Epidural injections are reserved for long-term, chronic back pain, particularly pain caused by conditions in which the nerves in your spinal canal are irritated. This includes:
- Spinal stenosis
- Herniated discs (sometimes called slipped discs)
- Degenerative disc disease
Epidural injections alone won’t eliminate these conditions, but they reduce pain so that you can focus on other therapies, including physical therapy, that can help you heal.
You’ve already tried other treatments
Sciatica, for example, often responds well to conservative treatments, such as lifestyle modifications and physical therapy. However, in some cases, that’s not enough to eliminate pain. When you’ve tried other treatments 一such as medication, physical therapy, and movement modifications 一 without relief, you may start to consider an epidural injection.
Our team may recommend an epidural steroid injection if:
- Your back pain limits your participation in other treatments and therapies designed to improve your underlying condition, e.g., your pain is too severe to complete your physical therapy exercises
- You want to avoid or postpone surgery
- You have tried conservative treatments for at least six weeks without relief
- Your pain extends into your arms and legs
If you’ve tried other treatments for chronic back pain and just aren’t finding the relief you need, schedule your consultation at our Arlington, Virginia, or Washington D.C. location. During your appointment, we perform a comprehensive exam, review your diagnostic imaging studies, confirm the cause of your pain, and shape your treatment plan.