Persistent back pain can interfere with your ability to participate in daily activities and affect your quality of life. Symptoms can range from a dull ache to an intense jab that limits your ability to move.
The first approach to treatment typically involves nonsurgical therapies such as medication, behavior modification, or physical therapy. When these treatments don’t provide adequate improvement, many patients achieve results with epidural injections.
You’ll achieve the best possible outcomes when your epidural injection is administered by an expert medical professional. Interventional pain management specialist Shoeb Mohiuddin, MD, and the team at Regenerative Pain & Spine in Chicago, Illinois, specialize in the use of epidural injections and other non-surgical treatments for back pain. After a comprehensive physical examination, medical history, and review of diagnostic tests such as X-rays or computed tomography (CT) scan, Dr. Mohiuddin advises whether an epidural and/or other back pain therapies are appropriate for your condition.
How an epidural works
While the names sound the same, an epidural injection is not the same as epidural anesthesia that you receive before surgery or childbirth.
An epidural injection includes a local anesthetic and a corticosteroid, generally called a steroid. The injection is administered into the outermost area of the spinal column where nerve roots exit your spine. This area, called the epidural space, covers the spinal column and protects the surrounding nerves.
The corticosteroid in an epidural injection coats inflamed nerve roots, where its anti-inflammatory properties reduce nerve irritation and swelling. The effect relieves discomfort and allows the damaged nerves time to heal.
The anesthetic produces pain relief in about 15 minutes and can last for up to several hours after the epidural is delivered. You may notice the effects of the corticosteroid within a few hours, though it can take up to a week before you achieve noticeable relief.
Conditions treated with an epidural
Dr. Mohiuddin determines whether an epidural is an appropriate treatment for your symptoms based on your medical history, lifestyle, and the source of your pain. The treatment is typically advised only after conservative therapies have failed to deliver improvement.
You may benefit from an epidural if your back pain is related to one of the following conditions:
- Compressed nerve
- Bone spurs
- Degenerative disc
- Herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
- Spondylolisthesis (slipped vertebra)
An epidural may not be appropriate if you have a bleeding problem, infection, glaucoma, or diabetes. Being pregnant may also interfere with your ability to receive an epidural because the fluoroscopy X-rays used to target the injection may be harmful to unborn babies.
What to expect during an epidural
An epidural injection is administered as an outpatient treatment in the comfort and convenience of our office. The epidural procedure is completed in about 30 minutes.
You receive a local anesthetic during the procedure, but remain awake and aware. While you may experience some pressure, it is usually tolerable. If you are anxious, you may also receive a low dose of a sedative to help you relax.
During the procedure, you lie on an X-ray table on your side. Using X-ray fluoroscopy to watch the needle in real-time, Dr. Mohiuddin inserts a hollow needle through your skin into the epidural space. The high-definition images produced by fluoroscopy allow Dr. Mohiuddin to precisely direct the needle to the appropriate location.
When the needle is near the ideal position, dye is injected to confirm the flow of the medication before it’s administered. When the needle is appropriately positioned, the medication is delivered and the needle is withdrawn.
Results of an epidural
You will be asked to remain in our facility for a short time after receiving an epidural to ensure you don’t experience any side effects from the treatment. If you experience soreness near the injection site, acetaminophen may provide relief.
Up to 90% of people who receive an epidural report considerable relief. If your symptoms improve with an epidural, you may also gain relief from subsequent injections. However, the use of epidurals for back pain is usually limited to a few times per year to reduce the risk of steroids weakening your spinal bones and nearby muscles.
If an epidural doesn’t improve your pain, it’s not likely that future epidurals will make a difference, so different treatments may be advised.
While an epidural injection can relieve chronic back pain, it won’t cure the underlying cause of your symptoms. However, the treatment can be useful in allowing you to participate in physical therapy to promote healing. It can help avoid or delay surgery while you make lifestyle modifications to improve your condition.
To find out more about epidurals and whether this treatment may be appropriate for your back pain, call one of our offices in the West Ridge area of Chicago today.