Lumbar epidural steroid injections can help relieve pain in the lower back and legs. Learn the answers to some frequently asked questions about this treatment.
A lumber epidural steroid injection is a treatment to relieve pain in your lower back or legs caused by inflammation of the nerves in your spine.
Steroids, also called corticosteroids, are medications that bring down inflammation. Your doctor gives the injection into the epidural space around the spinal cord in your lower back.
You might get a lumbar steroid injection if you have pain from:
- a herniated disc
- spinal stenosis
- degenerative spine disease
- bone spurs
Everyone responds to the procedure differently. In general, a lumbar epidural steroid injection can be a bit uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful. You can ask your doctor for a mild sedative to relax you before the procedure.
Your doctor will first inject a local anesthetic into the skin on your back to numb the area. The injection might cause a mild burning or stinging sensation.
You’ll likely feel some pressure when your doctor inserts the needle into the epidural space to inject the steroid medication. If you do feel any pain, your doctor can give you more of the local anesthesia to relieve it.
The epidural injection should start to relieve your back pain within 1 to 3 days. But sometimes it can take up to a week to see an improvement.
This treatment isn’t a cure for back pain, although some people do get permanent relief. Typically, if you’ve had chronic back pain, the injection may continue to work for 3 to 6 months or longer.
If the pain returns, you may need to get injections a few times a year. To potentially help extend the effects of this treatment, you may want to consider:
- exercising regularly
- not smoking
- staying at a healthy weight for your body
Recovery from an epidural steroid injection is usually quick.
You won’t be able to drive for the rest of the day and will need someone to help you get home from the appointment.
Avoid soaking in a tub, pool, shower, or any other water until your doctor says you can resume these activities.
You should be able to go back to your usual activities the day after the procedure. But soreness might keep you from more strenuous activities, such as exercise, for a few days.
Your back might be a little sore for a few days after the injection. Holding an ice pack to the area three or four times per day and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can help.
Epidural steroid injections are safe overall. The most common side effects are mild and may include:
- pain at the injection site
- redness of your face and chest, called a steroid flush
- trouble sleeping
- hot flashes
- an increase in blood sugar levels
- fluid buildup
- increased back pain
These side effects should improve without treatment within 1 or 2 days.
More serious problems are rare but can include:
- allergic reaction
- nerve damage
- numbness or tingling
Let your doctor know if your back still hurts a few days after the injection. And call your doctor’s office right away if you have more serious side effects, such as bleeding or an allergic reaction. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you need emergency care.
Before receiving an epidural steroid injection, discuss the benefits and risks of this treatment with your doctor.
Epidural steroid injections temporarily — and sometimes permanently — relieve back and leg pain from conditions such as a herniated disc or degenerative spine disease. Results can last for several months.
If you get a steroid injection and your pain doesn’t improve, talk with your doctor. The pain may not be coming from nerves in your spine.
You may need more tests to figure out the cause and a different type of treatment to relieve it.