Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injections

What is an Epidural Steroid Injection?

An Epidural Steroid Injection (ESI) is a simple, safe, and effective non-surgical treatment that involves the injection of a steroid medication similar to cortisone into the Epidural Space of the spine. The epidural space is the portion of the spine where inflamed nerves are located. The intent of this procedure is to reduce inflammation and therefore relieve pain. This is a minimally invasive technique used to relieve a variety of painful conditions, including chronic pain anywhere in the spine.

How is this injection done?

Although there are different techniques used for Epidural Steroid Injection, the most common technique is with X-Ray guidance (fluoroscopy), usually with the patient lying on his or her stomach. Dr. Barrack uses fluoroscopy for all of her epidural procedures. The injection is performed with local anesthesia and on occasion with intravenous sedation. Patients are not deeply sedated or completely asleep for this procedure because it is unnecessary and unsafe to do so. The procedure usually takes no more than 10-20 minutes, followed by a brief 15-20 minute recovery before discharge home.

What types of conditions will respond to ESI?

For over forty years, this procedure has been used to effectively treat back pain, sciatica( buttock, hip, or leg pain) from herniated or bulging discs, spinal stenosis, and recurrent pain following spine surgery. Other conditions that may also respond to ESI include spondylolisthesis (slippage of the vertebral column) and post-herpetic neuralgia (pain after shingles).

Does the injection hurt?

The injection of local anesthetic (numbing medicine) at the beginning of the procedure may sting some, but ESI is an otherwise routine procedure that is extremely well tolerated by patients ranging in age from the mid-teens to well over ninety years old. If you are anxious or concerned about pain during the procedure, please discuss with Dr. Barrack or her staff about receiving intravenous sedation.

What should I do to prepare for my injection?

Know where the facility is located so you will not be stressed trying to arrive 90 min prior to the procedure time. Have all questions regarding the procedure answered prior to your injection.

If you are scheduled to receive sedation during the procedure, you should not have anything to eat or drink for at least six (6) hours before your scheduled procedure and you must have someone available to drive you to and from the surgical center.

It is very important that you take blood pressure and heart medication at the usual time with a sip of water before your procedure.

If you are taking any type of medication that can thin the blood and cause excessive bleeding, you should discuss with the prescribing doctors the safety of discontinuing this medication, as all blood thinners must be stopped for 5 days  prior to the procedure. These anticoagulant meds are usually prescribed to protect a patient against stroke, heart attack, or other vascular occlusion event. Therefore the decision to discontinue one of these medications is not made by the pain management physician but rather by the primary care or specialty physician (cardiologist) who prescribes and manages that medication. Examples of medications that could promote surgical bleeding include Coumadin, Plavix, Aggrenox, Pletal, Ticlid, and Lovenox.

See complete list of blood thinning agents.

What should I expect after the injection?

You may notice some reduction in your pain for the first 1-2 hours after the injection if local anesthetic is injected with the steroid. When this anesthetic wears off, your pain will return as it was before the procedure. Although pain relief with ESI generally occurs within 3 – 5 days, some patients experience improvement before or after this time period. Diabetic patients should be on the alert for a rise in blood sugar during the first few days after injection and must monitor blood sugar accordingly.

What should I do after my injection?

Following discharge home, you should plan on simple rest and relaxation. If you have pain at the injection site, application of an ice pack to this area should be helpful. If you receive intravenous sedation, you should not drive a car for at least twenty four hours. Patients are generally advised to go home and not return to work after this type of injection. Most people do return to work the next day.

How many injections will I need during my treatment?

A typical injection series consists of three injection sessions with an interval of two weeks between each session. The number of injections that you may require will depend on your response to each individual injection. If you have no pain following one injection, you will probably not need to repeat the injection.

Also if you have no relief or minimal relief after the first injection, Dr. Barrack may want to change the level or techniques of the epidural and if no pain relief after two injections, Dr. Barrack may recommend a different treatment for your pain. Please note that the alternatives to Epidural Steroid Injection may, in some cases, involve different treatments such as Facet Joint Injection, Sacroiliac Joint Injection, Selective nerve root injection or Spinal Surgery Consultation.  If you are not sure whether you should have your next procedure or if you feel that a different type of injection or treatment should be considered, please make a follow up appointment .

Could there be side effects or complications?

Minor side effects from the injected medications are not uncommon and can include nausea, itching, rash, facial flushing and sweating among other things. Some patients notice a mild increase or worsening of their pain for the first day or two after injection. Fortunately Epidural Steroid Injection has an extremely good safety profile, and serious complications are quite rare. Just like any other medical procedure, there are potential complications associated with ESI. Dr. Barrack and her staff will discuss these issues with you, and you will be asked to carefully read and sign a consent form before any procedure is performed.

What are the chances that this treatment will help my pain?

Most studies show that this treatment helps relieve pain for approximately half (50%) of the patients treated. The degree and duration of pain relief are variable and depend on many different factors, including the underlying diagnosis or condition being treated, duration of symptoms before treatment, whether previous back (neck) surgery has been performed and other factors.

Can these injections be repeated if my pain returns?

YES! This ESI can definitely be repeated if it was helpful for your pain in the past. Although there is some flexibility in the timing of repeat injection, Dr. Barrack will probably want you to wait for at least four to six months after your last injection. This issue can be discussed during a follow-up office visit.

For more information on Barrack Spine & Joint Medicine or to schedule an appointment please contact us today!