For many people, back pain goes away on its own or with nonsurgical treatments. Epidural steroid injections shouldn't typically be used as a first-line therapy for back pain relief, but that doesn't mean they can't play a role in treating pain. But injections won't cure the underlying cause of back pain, and they provide only temporary relief. Unfortunately, in many cases, chronic back pain can't be cured, but must instead be managed, like other chronic conditionsand patients must have realistic expectations of what epidurals can do.
As with any medication, there are possible side effects or risks involved. Common risks from steroid injections include pain at the injection site, bruising due to broken blood vessels, skin discolouration and aggravation of inflammation. Rarer risks include allergic reactions, infection, tendon rupture and serious injury to bones called necrosis. Long term side effects (depending on frequency and dose) include thinning of skin, easy bruising, weight gain, puffiness in the face, higher blood pressure, cataract formation, and osteoporosis (reduced bone density). Steroid injections may be given every 3-4 months but frequent injections may lead to tissue weakening at the injection site and is not recommended. Side effects do not happen in everyone and vary from person to person.
Radiculopathy occurs when something irritates a spinal nerve—say a “slipped disc” causing a pinched nerve. This is also called sciatica . There are resident stem and other cells in the local tissues everywhere in our body. Many live around blood vessels. These are obviously also present in the disc and nerves in the epidural space and they usually play an important role in suppressing inflammation and repairing damage. We know, based on a copious in vitro (lab) data, that the high-dose steroids used in epidural injections can kill these cells. So the progression of the series of epidural steroid injections looks a little something like this: