Are Epidural Steroid Injections Safe, and When Are They the Best Option for Chronic Back Pain?

Are Epidural Steroid Injections Safe, and When Are They the Best Option for Chronic Back Pain?

If you have pain that doesn’t respond to conservative treatments like over-the-counter pain relievers, your doctor might recommend a corticosteroid shot. 

A corticosteroid injection is an interventional pain technique that reduces inflammation in your tissues, nerves, and joints. When you have chronic back pain associated with nerves near your spine, your doctor might suggest a special kind of corticosteroid injection therapy called an epidural steroid injection. But are these injections safe, and how do you know they’re right for you?

Our experienced team at Southern Pain Specialists, led by Dr. Kenneth Varley, offers several different interventional pain management techniques, including epidural steroid injections. When you come in for a consultation at our convenient location in Birmingham, Alabama, we can determine if it’s the right treatment for you. 

We’ve pulled together the information below to help demystify this form of pain management. 

How epidural steroid injections work

Epidural steroid injections (ESIs) use special injectable medications to reduce pain and inflammation affecting the nerve roots near your spine. This area is called the epidural space and is the outermost portion of your spinal canal.

During an epidural steroid injection, we use imaging to guide our delivery of precise amounts of anti-inflammatory, anesthetic, and steroid medication to the area generating your pain. Once in place, this medicine can help reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation around your spinal nerve roots as well as other damaged nerves in the area. 

An ESI injection usually starts working within a few days, but sometimes it takes up to a week to get results. This technique isn’t a permanent solution for pain, but epidural steroid injections can provide relief for up to one year.

When to consider an epidural steroid injection

Epidural steroid injections aren’t for every kind of back pain, especially if you have a strain or sprain. This treatment focuses on symptoms associated with your spinal nerves. 

Common conditions that can benefit from epidural steroid injections include:

  1. Bone spurs
  2. Bulging or herniated discs
  3. Spinal stenosis
  4. Failed back surgery syndrome, especially with chronic back or leg pain
  5. Injuries to your vertebrae, spinal nerves, or surrounding tissues

In most cases, we recommend epidural steroid injections for intense pain that hasn’t improved on its own or responded to conservative pain management treatments, like oral medications or physical therapy. 

The risks associated with epidural steroid injections

While epidural steroid injections are generally safe, they do come with a few risks, which is why we recommend them in limited doses. The incredibly rare side effects in less than 1% of corticosteroid injections include infection and injured nerves or blood vessels. 

The main concern with epidural steroid injections is having too many. When you introduce too much corticosteroid medication into the body, it causes some of your tissue in the treatment area, including bone, joint cartilage, and muscle, to weaken or break down. It can also cause thinning of the skin or soft tissue at the injection site.

Additional symptoms of too many corticosteroid injections include facial flushing, insomnia, high blood sugar, fever, or headache. Too many ESIs can also disrupt your hormone balance. 

To protect your body and overall health, we recommend limiting the number of epidural steroid injections you get each year. We also work closely with you to weigh the potential risks versus the benefits of managing your chronic back pain with ESIs.

For more information on treating chronic back pain with epidural steroid injections, call us at Southern Pain Specialists or schedule an appointment online today.