Learning About Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injections

What is a lumbar epidural steroid injection?

A doctor may give you a lumbar epidural steroid injection to try to decrease pain, tingling, or numbness in your back, buttock, or leg. These might be the result of a back or disc problem.

The injection goes directly into your epidural space. This is the area in your back around your spinal cord.

This injection may have both a local anesthetic and a steroid medicine. Or it may only have a steroid. Local anesthetic medicines numb your nerves right away for a short time. Steroids reduce swelling and pain. But they take a few days to start working.

Some people get a series of these injections over weeks or months.

How is a lumbar epidural done?

The doctor may use an imaging test before or during your injection. This can be an MRI, a CT scan, or an X-ray. These tests can show where your nerve problems are.

After finding the right spot, the doctor may inject a numbing medicine into the skin where you will get the steroid injection. Then he or she puts the needle for the steroid into the numbed area. You may feel some pressure. You could feel some stinging or burning during the injection.

It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to get this injection. You will probably go home about 20 to 30 minutes after you get it. You will need someone to drive you home.

What can you expect after a lumbar epidural?

If your injection had local anesthetic and a steroid, your legs may feel heavy or numb right after. You will probably be able to walk. But you may need to be extra careful. Take care not to lose your balance and be sure to follow your doctor's instructions.

If your injection contained local anesthetic, you may feel better right away. But this pain relief will last only a few hours. Your pain will probably return. This is because the steroids have not started working yet. Before the steroids start to work, your back may be sore for a few days.

These injections don't always work. When they do, it takes 1 to 5 days. This pain relief can last for several days to a few months or longer.

You may want to do less than normal for a few days. But you may also be able to return to your daily routine.

Some people are dizzy or feel sick to their stomach after getting this injection. These symptoms usually do not last very long.

If your pain is better, you may be able to keep doing your normal activities or physiotherapy. But try not to overdo it, even if your back pain has improved a lot. If your pain is only a little better or if it comes back, your doctor may recommend another injection in a few weeks. If your pain has not changed, talk to your doctor about other treatment choices.

Side effects from an epidural steroid injection include headache, fever, or infection. Serious side effects are rare. But they can include stroke, paralysis, or loss of vision.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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