Low Back Pain: Should You Try Epidural Steroid Injections?

If you’ve had low back pain for more than 6 weeks and your pain is unbearable, your doctor might recommend a shot (injection) of corticosteroid, or steroid medicine, into your spinal canal. This is called an epidural injection. Steroid medicines reduce inflammation and swelling. This can relieve pressure on nerves and nerve roots. The medicine can’t fix your back, but it can give you relief from back and leg pain.

Key points to consider

  1. Epidural injections may give you short-term relief from back pain that runs down your leg. On average, pain relief from the shots lasts about 3 months to a year for some. That may be enough time for your back to heal so your pain does not come back.
  2. The shots probably won’t help at all if you have general back pain or pain that does not spread down your leg.
  3. Getting the shots may allow you to delay surgery, by reducing inflammation and relieving symptoms.
  4. The injections may not improve your ability to do routine activities over the long term, depending on the cause of the back pain.
  5. The most common side effect is a headache that lasts a few days. Also, after the shots, your pain may get worse before it gets better.
  6. The shots are not for ordinary strain-and-sprain backaches. Orthopedic specialists usually offer them for shooting nerve pain (sciatica) from a ruptured disk, or symptoms associated with narrowing of the space around the spinal cord (spinal stenosis).

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