When most people think of epidurals, they think of the delivery room, where women in labor are administered this pain-relieving injection to block pain, numb contractions and make delivery easier. However, epidural injections are also a very commonly accepted and administered treatment for lower back pain.
Epidural injections are a non-surgical treatment that can help diminish or eliminate pain by reducing the inflammation that causes pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion. Epidural injections are not a permanent solution or cure for pain but can provide relief for weeks or months at a time. Epidural injections may be given once, or as part of a series of injections to help manage chronic pain. But if you suffer from back pain and think epidural injections are a magical cure, think again. While there is no doubt of their success in treating back pain, here are some things you should keep in mind when seeking out epidural injections.
As with any medical procedure, epidural injections can cause side effects, but those instances usually dissipate over time or once the epidural has worn off. Only in the rarest instances does an epidural injection result in long-term repercussions. However, some possible side effects to be cautious of include:
· Infection, which can occur if the epidural is administered too close to the spinal cord or major nerves. This infection can reduce the blood flow and may cause temporary damage to nerves.
· Loss of sensation. In some cases, patients experience pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness in the lower back and legs; this goes away over time.
· Loss of bladder control. Considering the epidural prevents certain sensations from being felt, you may experience a very temporary loss of bladder control. Again, rare, but something to be aware of.
· Change in blood pressure. Many patients will experience a slight drop or elevation in blood pressure while receiving an epidural. This can make you feel nauseas or sick. Again, this is only temporary.
· Itching or burning at the site of the injection; doctors will apply some topical cream to reduce swelling and itching.
· Dural (“wet tap”) puncture. While it occurs in less than 1 percent of all injections, post-dural punctures often result in spinal headaches that improve within a few days. To treat this rare reaction, doctors perform a blood patch procedure that involves extracting a tiny amount of the patient’s blood and immediately injecting it back into the epidural space, allowing a clot to form around the spinal sac to stop any leakage.
How to Choose the Right Doctor
Choosing the right doctor can help you get the most out of epidural injections and reduce the risk of adverse reactions. Here are some things to consider before undergoing epidural injections for chronic back pain.
· Are You the Right Candidate? While epidural injections are a good treatment for some, they are not for everyone. Your doctor should make a thorough diagnosis before getting under way with epidural injections. If your condition is such that epidurals will prove ineffective, you may have to seek out other treatments. Likewise, there are only so many epidurals you should receive in a therapeutic series before cumulative trauma of the area sets in. If pain isn’t diminishing after the second injection, your doctor may work with you to seek out other treatments.
· Where is the pain located? The higher up on the spine the back pain, the higher the risk for complications. That said, your doctor may have determined that epidurals are too risky if your pain is toward the top of your spine, near the brain stem.
If you suffer from lower back pain and are interested in learning about treatment options, including epidural injections, see an expert at the Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland. Our board-certified, fellowship-trained expert physicians have a wealth of experience treating all kinds of orthopedic concerns and will recommend the most effective treatment for you. Call 410-644-1880 to make an appointment today.