What is an epidural?
Epidural injections are a common treatment option for numerous types of low back and leg pain.
The epidural space refers to a fat-filled area located around the spinal cord. It protects the spinal cord and the adjacent nerves. The epidural space also represents a pathway to inflamed spinal nerves which can consequently be treated by injecting cortisone steroid hormones into the region. The cortisone hormone is naturally produced by the adrenal gland when stress occurs. Thus, by injecting synthetic cortisone, inflammation and pain can be substantially reduced. An epidural injection can be administered anywhere along the vertebral column (in the cervical, thoracic, lumbar or sacral region) and can have various purposes, such as inducing analgesia (inability to feel pain) during childbirth or surgery.
Treatment of sciatica with epidural injection
There are several orthopedic medical conditions, including herniated disks, slipped vertebrae and spinal arthritis, which can cause compression and inflammation of the spinal nerves. Inflammation is quite painful and the intense discomfort may also radiate in the arms or legs (sciatica). Receiving the appropriate amount of cortisone directly into the affected spinal nerve can alleviate pain in a few days or within a week, depending on your condition. Pain can be managed with this treatment method for a few months, after which you may need another injection. If you do not experience any improvement following the first injection, this treatment may not be effective for you. In such cases, the pain most probably stems from a different area of the body than your spinal nerves.
However, you should avoid excessive cortisone injections, as high doses of artificial cortisone can suppress your body’s natural production of this hormone.
How is an epidural injection administered?
During an epidural injection, an X-ray instrument is used to monitor the direction of the needle so that the medication will be administered in the correct region of the spine.
Some potential side effects of epidural injections are steroid flush (redness of the face and chest), water retention, anxiety, and sleeping difficulties. Increased pain can also ensue in rare cases, typically lasting for a few days.
Complications are not frequently encountered but may include nerve damage, infections, allergic reactions, bleeding, and paralysis.