If you’re experiencing spinal nerve pain emanating from your lower back, especially pain associated with sciatica due to a ruptured disk or spinal stenosis, your spinal specialist may recommend epidural steroid injections to relieve the pain during the healing process. What, exactly, is this type of injection, and how does it work to alleviate pain?
To understand how steroid injections work, we must first understand what is going on in the spine to cause back and nerve pain. Your spine is a complex, flexible system of bones, tissues, ligaments, and nerves. Your spine serves the dual purposes of helping you maintain posture and protecting your spinal cord — the largest and most critical collection of nerves in your central nervous system.
In most cases, spinal nerve pain is caused by undue pressure upon the nerves themselves. This may be caused by a number of issues, including direct injury, degenerating discs due to aging and/or a narrowing of the spinal canal. This pressure generates inflammation, a natural function of your immune system that increases heat and causes swelling to attack a perceived intruder in your body. Ultimately, inflammation is the source of pain.
Corticosteroids (“steroids” for short) are substances that simulate the effects of cortisol, a natural hormone that calms inflammation and suppresses the activities of the immune system. When applied to a local area (like the epidural space in the lower back), these steroid injections reduce the inflammation around the spine that is causing the shooting pain down your leg. Epidural injections often consist of two types of drugs: a) a local anesthetic like lidocaine or a similar drug to bring temporary numbness to the area, and b) the corticosteroid to provide extended relief to the inflamed area when the numbness wears off.
Your doctor may recommend epidural steroid injections as a way of treating sciatica or other lower back pain when other types of treatments aren’t bringing effective relief from the pain. These injections do not cure the cause of the pain — they only treat the pain itself, and only temporarily (meaning you may have to repeat the treatments every few months). However, when used in conjunction with an ongoing treatment plan that includes other strategies like physical therapy, epidural steroid injections can provide necessary relief from the pain so you can move forward with your recovery. When used in this manner, these injections may even help you avoid surgery altogether.
If you’re experiencing significant spinal nerve pain, epidural steroid injections may be a good solution for you as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. To learn more, call Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center at 404-256-2633.