An epidural steroid injection (ESI) is a minimally invasive procedure that can help relieve neck, arm, back, and leg pain caused by inflamed spinal nerves due to spinal stenosis or disc herniation. Medicines are delivered to the epidural space, which is a fat-filled area between the bone and the protective sac of the spinal nerves. Pain relief may last for several days or even years. The goal is to reduce pain so that you may resume normal activities and a physical therapy program.
What is an epidural steroid injection (ESI)? A steroid injection includes both a corticosteroid and an anesthetic numbing agent. The drugs are delivered into the epidural space of the spine, which is the area between the bony vertebra and the protective dura sac surrounding the spinal nerves and cord. Corticosteroid injections can reduce inflammation and can be effective when delivered directly into the painful area. Unfortunately, the injection does not make a herniated disc smaller; it only works on the spinal nerves by flushing away the proteins that cause swelling. The pain relief can last from days to years, allowing your spinal condition to improve with physical therapy and an exercise program. Who is a candidate? Patients with pain in the neck, arm, low back, or leg (sciatica) may benefit from ESI. Specifically, those with the following conditions:
Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve root canal can cause back and leg pain, especially when walking.
Spondylolisthesis: A weakness or fracture between the upper and lower facets of a vertebra. If the vertebra slips forward, it can compress the nerve roots causing pain.
Herniated disc: The gel-like material within the disc can bulge or rupture through a weak area in the surrounding wall (annulus). Irritation, pain, and swelling occur when this material squeezes out and comes in contact with a spinal nerve.
Degenerative disc: A breakdown or aging of the intervertebral disc causing a collapse of the disc space, tears in the annulus, and growth of bone spurs.
Sciatica: Pain that courses along the sciatic nerve in the buttocks and down the legs. It is usually caused by compression of the 5th lumbar or 1st sacral spinal nerve.
ESI has proven helpful for some patients in the treatment of painful inflammatory conditions. ESI can also help determine whether surgery might be beneficial for pain associated with a herniated disc. When symptoms interfere with rehabilitative exercises, epidurals can ease the pain enough so that patients can continue their physical therapy.
ESI should NOT be performed on people who have an infection or have bleeding problems. The injection may slightly elevate the blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes. It may also temporarily elevate blood pressure and eye pressure for patients with glaucoma. You should discuss this with your physician.