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.
Epidural steroid injections are generally very safe, but there are some rare potential complications. One of the most common risks is for the needle to go too deep and cause a hole in the dura, the tissue that surrounds the spinal cord and nerve roots. When this occurs spinal fluid can leak out through the hole and cause a headache . This headache can be treated with bedrest, or with a blood patch. A blood patch involves drawing some blood from the vein and the injecting it over the hole in the dura. The blood forms a seal over the hole and prevents any further fluid from leaking out.
Cervical Epidural Steroid Injections involve injecting a steroid into the epidural space of the cervical spinal canal where irritated nerve roots are located. The injected medications include both a long-lasting steroid and a local anesthetic (Lidocaine, Bupivacaine).
The steroid reduces inflammation and irritation, while the anesthetic interrupts the pain-spasm cycle and nociceptor transmission (Boswell 2007). The medicines spread to the most painful levels of the spine, reducing inflammation and irritation. The entire procedure usually takes less than 15 minutes.