Epidural steroid injections are often used to treat the symptoms of spinal stenosis when more conservative treatments like rest and over-the-counter pain medication have failed. The injections typically provide at least temporary, and sometimes long-term, relief because they contain a corticosteroid, a powerful synthetic chemical that reduces the inflammation and pain that often accompanies spinal stenosis.
If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal, you are probably experiencing some or all of these symptoms:
- Pain in the affected area
- Pain radiating to the hips, shoulders, and extremities
- Numbness and stiffness
- Cramping in legs
- Difficulty balancing and walking
- Headaches and overall physical weakness
Before using an epidural steroid injection to treat the symptoms of spinal stenosis, a physician is likely to recommend these treatments first:
- Rest or reduced activity
- Over-the-counter pain and anti-inflammatory medications
- Prescription pain killers
- Hot and cold compresses applied to the affected area
- Low-impact exercise, such as walking or swimming
However, if these spinal stenosis treatments have little or no effect on your condition and your symptoms are persistent and severe, an epidural steroid injection may be recommended.
First, your physician will use an MRI, CT scan, or X-ray to find the area along your spinal column where pain and discomfort originates. For instance, lumbar spinal stenosis, the most common form of the condition, occurs in the lower back, known as the lumbar region of the spinal column. If you have cervical spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal occurs in the upper spine or neck.
During the epidural steroid injection procedure, a fluoroscope, or “live” X-ray, is used by the doctor find the exact spot where the narrowing is occurring in your spinal column. A local anesthetic is often applied to numb the area where the injection will be inserted. Then, your physician will insert a large needle, delivering the proper dose of corticosteroid medication to the site where your pain likely originated.
Corticosteroid injections are extremely effective for some patients. These patients report experiencing immediate relief while lying on the table in the doctor’s office – literally right after the injection is administered. Sometimes only one injection is necessary. With other patients, up to three injections are required to alleviate symptoms.
Doctors are careful with the frequency of epidural steroid injections in any given patient because they can cause serious symptoms over time, including hypertension, osteoporosis, weight gain, and “moon face.” Short-term temporary effects from the injections may include slightly elevated blood sugar, nausea, dizziness, headaches, and insomnia.
There are cases when corticosteroid injections are not effective at all in alleviating a patient’s symptoms and back surgery is the next step. If your physician has suggested traditional surgery for spinal stenosis and you are looking for an alternative, Laser Spine Institute may be able to help. We offer minimally invasive endoscopic procedures for spinal stenosis and many other spinal conditions. Contact LSI today for a free review of your MRI or CT scan and for more information about our procedures.