Pain Management, Spine Surgery

August 7, 2015

Can Epidural Injections Lessen the Pain of Your Spinal Stenosis?


Millions of Americans suffer from back and neck pain. If you suffer from chronic back pain caused by spinal stenosis, epidural injections may help relieve your pain.

Spinal stenosis occurs when joints in the spinal canal grow larger, narrowing the space between cervical disks and placing pressure on the spine. Stenosis typically occurs in the neck or lumbar region of the back. Spinal stenosis is most common in men and women over 50 years of age and grows increasingly common as aging progresses. Paget’s disease, traumatic injuries, and tumor growth may also contribute to stenosis.

Symptoms of Spinal Stenosis

Also known as foraminal stenosis, spinal stenosis patients often have no symptoms at first. They gradually begin to experience non-continuous bouts of pain, often during strenuous physical activities or after holding their extremities in an extended position. Over time, these symptoms increase in severity and intensity:

  • Standing discomfort
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction
  • Pain and tingling in the extremities

When pain medications are no longer effective, there are a few other non-surgical options for spinal stenosis treatment. Traction may help, but does not provide long-term relief. Many patients opt for more comprehensive procedures, like epidural injections.

Epidural Injections as Spinal Stenosis Treatment

During an epidural injection, your physician will inject steroids into your epidural root sleeve, which is located near the spinal canal. You will usually lie on your side for neck injections, or on your stomach for lumbar injections.

The steroids reduce your spinal swelling and inflammation, relieving the pressure on your spine—mitigating pain, numbness, and other symptoms of stenosis. Steroid injections also allow your doctor to identify the spinal roots that are causing your pain. This is important information if pain management ceases to provide relief and your doctor recommends surgery.

Your doctor will administer a local anesthetic to ensure your comfort during the procedure. The sedatives used in this spinal stenosis treatment do not render you unconscious, but they may make it difficult to remember the procedure.

Most patients experience pain relief immediately after the procedure as a result of the anesthesia. When the anesthesia wears off after the first few hours, your pain may seem to increase. This is due to the pressure exerted on your spine by the epidural injection.

You should feel the full effects of the steroids about 3 to 5 days after your procedure. If they work properly, epidural injections provide pain relief for up to six months. If you do not experience pain relief within the first two weeks of the procedure, your doctor may recommend an additional injection.

If the second procedure does not work, your doctor will most likely recommend an alternative spinal stenosis treatment, such as surgery.

What Are the Side Effects of Epidural Injections?

Although epidural injection is one of the safest methods for spinal stenosis treatment, there are possible minor side effects, including:

  • Water retention
  • Weight gain
  • Reduced natural steroid production

Diabetics may also have more trouble controlling their blood sugar as their body adjusts to the steroids. More serious side effects include, nerve damage, epidural bleeding, infection, headaches, and worsening of symptoms, but these are rare.

Talk to your doctor about your health risks for undergoing epidural injection, especially if you have an ongoing infection, take blood-thinning medications, or have poorly managed heart or blood sugar problems.
If you would like to learn more about safe, effective epidural injection in Arkansas, contact Arkansas Surgical Hospital at 877.918.7020 to schedule an appointment with a pain management specialist or neurosurgeon.


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* Picture by: staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. (Own work) CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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