If you have ever been diagnosed with a bulging or herniated disc, you are probably familiar with, or have at least heard of, steroid injections. Epidural steroid injections are one of the most commonly used medical treatments to help ease the pain associated with disc problems. But, what exactly do steroid injections do, and are they a potential solution for disc related problems?
What Are Injections?
Epidural steroid injections (ESIs) are designed to help relieve pain caused by a disc bulge. They can be used to help with conditions resulting in neck pain, lower back pain, or radiating pain into the arms or legs.
During an epidural steroid injections, a needle is placed in the epidural space of the spine, and medication is directly introduced into this area. The epidural space is full of blood vessels and surrounds the spinal cord and spinal nerves. The medication that is used during an ESI is a steroid, most commonly cortisone. The goal of the injection is to reduce inflammation caused by a disc budge or herniation. This inflammation leads to irritation around the disc and spinal nerves, leading to the pain associated with a disc issue. In some cases, a pain killer, such as lidocaine, may also be used during an injection to allow for quick, temporary pain relief.
Do Injections Work?
ESIs have been proven to be successful in delivering short term pain relief, however, their long term effectiveness has not been proven. For this reason, it is not uncommon for people with disc problems to undergo a series of three injections to help get longer pain relief. Since ESIs deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to the inflamed area, they are more successful than oral steroids that widely disperse the medication.
Due to the short term pain relief offered by ESIs, as a chiropractor, I find that they can be helpful in some cases. When a patient has a severe disc bulge and is experiencing extreme pain, I will sometimes refer them for at least one round of steroid injections. I find that this offers the patient at least temporary relief, and then allows adjustments to be more effectively performed. As a result, through a combination of the injection and subsequent chiropractic care, we are able to achieve long lasting results.
Like all treatments, steroid injections are not free from risk and can lead to side effects. Risks of ESIs include infection, nerve damage and dural punctures that can lead to severe headaches. Side effects of having an ESI are usually very rare, much rarer than taking oral steroids. These include increased localized pain, anxiety and stomach ulcers.
Epidural steroid injections can offer temporary relief from pain caused by disc injuries in the neck and back. Chiropractic care, combined with injections, can lead to long lasting relief from these same injuries.