For many people, back pain goes away on its own or with nonsurgical treatments. Epidural steroid injections shouldn't typically be used as a first-line therapy for back pain relief, but that doesn't mean they can't play a role in treating pain. But injections won't cure the underlying cause of back pain, and they provide only temporary relief. Unfortunately, in many cases, chronic back pain can't be cured, but must instead be managed, like other chronic conditionsand patients must have realistic expectations of what epidurals can do.
Epidural steroid injections are most commonly used in situations of radicular pain, which is a radiating pain that is transmitted away from the spine by an irritated spinal nerve. Irritation of a spinal nerve in the low back ( lumbar radiculopathy ), such as from lumbar spinal stenosis , cervical spinal stenosis, herniated disc , and foraminal encroachment, causes back pain that goes down the leg. Epidural injection is also used as a minimally invasive procedure to treat nerve compression in the neck (cervical spine), referred to as cervical radiculopathy , which causes pain.
Physicians limit the number of epidural steroid injections to a maximum of three to avoid systemic side effects of the steroids. Side effects are minimal and consist mainly of mild tenderness in the area of injection which disappears in 1-2 days. Success is dependant on the cause of the pain and how long the pain has existed. The sooner the treatment is instituted, the better are the chances of getting well. This treatment, along with analgesics and physical therapy has brought relief to thousands of patients, avoiding , in the majority of cases, the need for surgery.