What Are Epidural Steroid Injections?

Oct 23, 2019 | Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Treatments

A Pinched Spinal Nerve Can Cause Severe Pain throughout the Body

If you suffer from pain in your back, legs, neck, or arms, the source of your discomfort may actually lie in your spine, courtesy of a pinched nerve. At Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers, we use a treatment called epidural steroid injections (ESIs) to deliver major pain relief by reducing swelling and inflammation of the nerve.

Similar to the cortisone injections we use to reduce inflammation and discomfort in arthritic knees, these shots consist of a corticosteroid in conjunction with a local anesthetic. But, unlike cortisone knee injections, which typically only last a few weeks, an ESI can last for many months, depending on the condition being treated. Many patients feel an ESI just masks the pain, since it can’t heal a herniated disc or arthritis in your spine. While it is true that the injection can’t heal the disc or cure arthritis, the ESI can be a powerful tool to reset the pain/inflammatory cycle of the injury or condition. Thus, when combined with physical therapy, the injection delivers significant pain relief down the road.


Arthritis Can Lead to a Pinched Nerve

Think of your spinal canal like a freeway. It serves as the main thoroughfare for the nerves throughout your body. Your spinal cord carries messages from your body to the brain. It also allows you to feel sensation and movement from your arms and legs, all the way down to your toes.

However, problems arise when the spinal passage narrows where a nerve exits the spine. This literal pinching of the nerve disturbs the flow of communication from your extremities to your brain. The pinched nerve now sends the wrong signals to the brain, telling you there’s pain in an area where it doesn’t actually exist.

A pinched nerve can lead to unnecessary pain down the arm, leg, buttock, upper back and even slight weakness and numbness. This constriction of the spinal passage has many causes, from a herniated disc, cysts, and bone spurs to even spinal stenosis, a condition caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


How Do Epidural Steroid Injections Work?

An epidural steroid injection does not release a nerve, heal herniated discs, or widen a spinal passage. Rather, the steroid works on the nerve itself. It’s directly injected into the epidural space above the dural sac, which envelopes your nerves and acts as their protective casing. That’s why it’s called an epidural injection.

Once a doctor determines an epidural steroid injection is the right treatment for you, the corticosteroid is administered as close to the affected nerve as possible. Our doctors at Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers utilize fluoroscopic guidance to accomplish this task. This technology uses x-ray imaging that allows our doctors to see real-time where the needle is going relative to the structures in your body.

As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, several forms of arthritis can affect the spine. This includes rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, both of which can cause swelling and inflammation in the spine. Thus, it’s important to keep in mind that — like with knee injections — corticosteroids don’t cure what causes the discomfort.


Side Effects of Epidural Steroid Injections

ESIs have been around for decades, and the treatment has been proven to be an effective pain reliever for pinched nerves, herniated discs, arthritis in the spine, and related conditions. Still, because ESIs are technically a steroid shot, the side effects are similar to those of cortisone knee injections. As with any injection, there is a small chance of infection, but specific side effects include:

  • Increase blood sugar: Cortisone increases blood sugar levels for a short term. Patients with diabetes must consider this and consult with their doctor before receiving the shot.
  • Thinning and weakening of skin: This condition is also associated with long-term use of corticosteroids. Signs and symptoms include increased stretch marks.
  • Suppressed immune system: Patients with an already weakened immune system should weigh this possible side effect in their decision-making.
  • Weight gain: Associated with prolonged steroid use.

Additionally, patients put themselves at greater risk for contracting these side effects if they receive cortisone treatments more often than their physician recommends. Read our article, How Often Can You Get a Cortisone Shot, to learn more about cortisone treatments, their benefits, as well as side effects.


The Benefits of Epidural Steroid Injections

Yes, there are some side effects associated with ESIs, but the injection can provide considerable pain relief for many months. Combined with pain management tactics like OTC medications, physical therapy, and exercise, you can increase the pain relief and the effectiveness of the injection.

To learn more about ESIs and determine the right treatment plan for your health needs, contact Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers today to schedule a risk-free consultation!


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