How Long Do Epidural Injections Last for Back Pain?

back pain

Did you know that back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide? In the United States alone, it is one of the most common reasons for missed work.

Some people suffering from back troubles prefer minimally invasive pain relief approaches such as epidural steroid injections (ESI).

When administered within the epidural space, the injection can help reduce inflammation around the spinal cord and nerves.

Although it is primarily used as a temporary pain reliever, steroid injections in conjunction with therapeutic exercise can prevent patients from undergoing surgical back procedures.

But how long does it take for an epidural steroid injection to wear off? And how effective are they? Read on to find out.

Epidural Steroid Injections

An epidural steroid injection (also known as epidural corticosteroid injections) is a noninvasive procedure to relieve neck, back, and leg pain. The pain is usually due to the inflammation of the spinal nerves.

The injection delivers steroid medication (cortisone) to the irritated nerve roots within the epidural space (the fat-filled area between the bone and protective sac of the nerves).

The anesthetics stop the pain-spasm-pain cycle, while the steroid reduces the irritation in the treatment area.

Candidates For Epidural Steroid Injections

back pain patient

Patients with neck, arm, leg, and low back pain are recommended to take epidural steroid injections, especially if they have the following conditions:

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis when the spaces between your spinal and nerve root canal become narrow. The narrowing puts pressure on the nerves and causes pain in the back, especially when walking.

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal condition that occurs when a vertebra slips out of place onto the one below it.

Disc herniation

A herniated or slipped disc happens when the cushion-like soft disks between your vertebrae slip out of place or become damaged and press on your nerves.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease is an age-related condition that occurs when a disc between your spinal vertebrae deteriorates, loses fluid, and shrinks.

Weakness, numbness, and pain radiating down the legs are associated with this condition.

Sciatica

Epidural steroid injections are commonly used for leg and low back pain caused by spinal nerves. This type of pain is known as sciatica which occurs when there’s a pinched or compressed nerve root in the lower back, which radiates down to the buttock, thigh, legs, or foot.

Potential Benefits of Epidural Steroid Injection

epidural steroid injections

Epidural steroid injections can provide temporary pain relief to patients with acute leg or low back problems.

When administered in the lumbar epidural space, a steroid injection may have the following benefits:

Reduce nerve pain and inflammation

Epidural injections reduce the production of inflammatory chemicals and improve the ability of nerve fibers to manage back, neck, and leg pain.

Limit oral medication

The steroid injections provide pain relief to minimize the need for oral over-the-counter medications that may pose severe side effects in the long run.

Continue or re-engage in physical therapy

If you’re undergoing a rehabilitative physical therapy program, your doctor may administer a steroid injection to provide sufficient pain relief.

Postpone surgery

An injection in the lumbar epidural space can allow you to postpone or eliminate the need for a surgical procedure, especially if you combine the medication with physical therapy.

Possible Side Effect of Epidural Injections

The common, and usually not serious, side effects of epidural injections include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting due to anxiety from the procedure (vasovagal attack)
  • Flushing of the face

These side effects will eventually subside after a few hours of rest. Cold therapy using ice packs can reduce any post-treatment pain and swelling.

The serious risks of the injection are as follows:

Infection

The medication can infect the brain, spinal cord, or other areas near the injection site.

  • Epidural abscess (pus build-up in the epidural space)
  • Meningitis (inflammation of the fluid and meninges surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
  • Osteomyelitis or discitis (disc infection)
  • Soft tissue abscess (bacteria build-up within the soft tissues at the site of injection)

Bleeding

If not administered properly, an epidural injection can damage the arteries and cause bleeding within the soft tissues, epidural space, and spinal membranes. Your doctor must be cautious of a possible blood clot.

Dural puncture

Improper administration of the epidural injection can cause dural puncture or the leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through the dural tear into the epidural space.

Cardiovascular system (heart) complications

Epidural steroid injections can cause low blood pressure and heart rate for some patients.

Local anesthetic risks

Damages in the central nervous system or cardiovascular system can happen if the injection containing local anesthetic enters a blood vessel.

Nerve damage

The injection can damage neighboring nerves and cause loss of sensation, seizure, and cauda equina syndrome.

Risks associated with particulate steroids

Steroids may lump together, build up in the blood vessels, and reduce blood flow in the spinal cord. The risks are more likely to occur to patients with allergic reactions to steroids or local anesthetic, and those who are over 50 years old.

To maximize the pain relief benefits of epidural steroid injection and avoid complications, make sure to consult only with your trusted radiology, orthopedic, anesthetic, or neurology specialists and be honest with your current health conditions.

More FAQs About Epidural Steroid Injection

radiologist explaining the spinal condition of a patient

How often can you get epidural injections for back pain?

Patients with mild low back pain can get one to two injections, with 1-4-week intervals to achieve the full effect.

Those with chronic back pain can receive injections at 3-6 months intervals. It isn’t recommended to receive more than 3 shots in the same spot within 12 months.

It’s best to consult your doctor if your symptoms are unchanged after receiving steroid injections.

Why is the pain worse after taking epidural steroid injections?

There may be a slight increase in pain or weakness as the numbing medicine wears off before the steroid starts to take effect.

How long do epidural injections last for back pain?

Most patients with back conditions can resume full physical activity the next day after getting epidural steroid injections.

Depending on the patient’s condition, this treatment option can relieve pain for several days or years. Epidural injections are done together with physical therapy and/or other exercise programs to reinforce back muscles and prevent future inflammation.

Who Can Administer Epidural Injections?

If you’re suffering from back problems, epidural injections can be the best choice for you.

To minimize the risk of complications, consult only with the right doctor. Remember that only qualified physicians such as physiatrists (PM&R), radiologists, anesthesiologists, neurologists, and surgeons can administer the injection.

If you need a medical consultation for your body pain problems, VISP – Vascular and Interventional Specialists of Prescott is here to help you.

Our expert radiologists can administer you with epidural steroid injection and prescribe you other pain relief methods according to your condition!

Visit our website to know more about our services, or call us at 928.771.8477 to book an appointment today.