What To Expect After Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection

Living with chronic lower back pain can negatively impact so many areas of your life – from limiting you from favorite hobbies and activities to making it challenging to work and spend time with loved ones. If you’re someone who suffers from lower back pain, you may have considered reaching out to your doctor or a specialist.

Usually, the first thing your doctor will do will be to recommend a series of non-invasive treatments to help you live more comfortably. They may connect you with a physical therapist or provide a list of low-impact exercises like swimming or biking. Another treatment option your doctor may consider if the back pain persists is an epidural steroid injection (ESI). These injections have been used for decades to treat lower back pain and continue to be one of the most effective pain management options in the field.

You can better prepare yourself for the procedure if your doctor recommends an epidural steroid shot. Learn more about what this involves and what you can expect within a day, week, or month of receiving the injection.


What is a Lumbar Epidural Steroid Shot?

Medical terminology isn’t always easy to understand, which is why it helps to break down each word related to Lumbar Epidural Steroid Shots. First, this treatment is designed to address pain in your lower spine, otherwise known as the lumbar region. Your doctor may recommend lumbar injections if you have lower back pain or shooting pains in your legs and feet.

This shot is injected into the epidural space in your spine. This is located in the area between your spinal nerve sac and the spinal bones. You can think of the epidural space as a narrow space surrounding your spinal nerve sheath.

Your nerves work as a superhighway sending information to and from the brain, so that, for example, your brain tells your leg to avoid stepping in gum or your toe sends a pain alert when you stub it on the coffee table. The medication your doctor injects into your epidural region essentially reduces inflammation and swelling that cuts off this information so your brain no longer receives these often over-active pain signals.

Finally, steroids (which are used in lumbar pain treatments) are anti-inflammatory medicines. They are used to reduce swelling in your spine which can impact your nerves. They also reduce activity in the immune system, preventing your body from overreacting to pain. The steroids used in pain management (corticosteroids) are different from the ones used to gain muscle mass (anabolic steroids).

When you break down the medical phrases into layman’s terms, a lumbar epidural steroid injection is a shot into your lower back that reduces inflammation while numbing sensitive nerves to reduce pain.


Why Is a Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection Needed?

Lumbar epidural shots are used to treat chronic pain which is caused by nerve trauma or damage in your lower back. There are several reasons why a doctor may recommend this course of treatment, as epidural shots are a proven method to lower pain levels. A few conditions that these injections can help treat include:

  • Herniated disc: this condition refers to a spinal disc that is broken or pushed out of place, which can put pressure on the nerves in your back. It can also be called a ruptured, slipped, or bulging disc.
  • Degenerative disc disease: similarly, this condition occurs when the spinal discs in between your vertebrae start to wear out or break down as you age.
  • Spinal stenosis: otherwise known as the narrowing of space in your lower back, spinal stenosis can pinch the nerves running up and down your spine.
  • Sciatica: pressure on the sciatic nerve causes pain to radiate down your legs and into your feet.
  • Osteoarthritis: this refers to the breakdown of bones in your spine, which can then push vertebrae out of place.

These are just a few examples of when your doctor may recommend an epidural steroid injection; however, it is not a comprehensive list. You may qualify for ESIs if you are diagnosed with another condition that causes chronic lower back pain, muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling in your lower body. Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.


What Should Be Expected During the Procedure

An epidural steroid injection is an outpatient procedure that only takes about 15 to 30 minutes on average. However, patients still need to prepare for this injection before arriving at their appointment. Your doctor will likely give you a list of instructions to prepare for the ESI. They may want you to fast before the shot (avoid eating and drinking) and may adjust any medications you are on. You also may need someone to drive you to and from the appointment.

At your appointment, you will be asked to change into a medical gown and will lie down on your stomach. The doctor may give you a sedative or use light anesthesia around the injection site to reduce the pain. They will sanitize the injection area and use an x-ray device to guide the needle. Your doctor will insert the needle and slowly inject the medication, then remove the shot and apply pressure to the site to prevent bleeding. The procedure is complete.

Your doctor may want you to wait up to an hour after the injection to make sure you don’t have any negative reactions to the medication. However, after this period is over, you are free to go home.


What Are The Risks Of A Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection?

While an ESI is a safe medical procedure, there are always risks that come with any form of treatment. Additionally, you may experience side effects from the injection after you leave the office.

Depending on the sedative or anesthesia, you might not feel anything from this injection. However, some patients experience pressure, tingling, or momentary pain when the shot is administered. This usually goes away once the injection is finished. If you feel intense pain during or after your shot, tell your doctor immediately.

Additionally, you may experience a few side effects following the injection. Every patient experience is different, but a few risks include:

  • A temporary increase in pain before the medication starts to work.
  • Tenderness or bruising at the site of the infection.
  • High blood sugar for a few hours or days after the injection.
  • Increased blood pressure and eye pressure if you have glaucoma.
  • Low blood pressure that makes you feel lightheaded.
  • Severe headache.
  • Infection from the epidural injection.
  • Damage to the nerves at the injection site.
  • Higher risk of blood clots.
  • Temporary loss of control of your bladder and bowels.

Your doctor will go over all of these risks before they administer an ESI and you will be able to consent to the shot or decide on another course of treatment. Tell your doctor if you experience any side effects after an injection. This will help them determine whether you should receive another epidural shot in the future.


What Are The Benefits

Despite the risks, there can be many benefits of receiving an epidural steroid injection. The first is the duration of the pain reduction. You might not notice any changes to your pain levels immediately after the procedure, but most ESIs start to work within two to seven days depending on the patient.

Once your pain levels start to decrease, the effects of the injection can last for several days or even a few months. Some patients enjoy lasting relief for up to 12 months. Talk to your doctor about your pain levels after you receive an ESI. Explain how long the pain levels are reduced before you begin to feel discomfort again.

Along with temporary pain relief, you may be able to complete daily activities that you otherwise had to stop because of your discomfort. You may be able to return to work and participate in various hobbies you enjoy. – just make sure you have clearance from your doctor before increasing your activity level. In some cases, an ESI can reduce or eliminate the need for more invasive procedures to treat pain in your spine.

An ESI isn’t always a standalone treatment. Your doctor will also recommend physical therapy and other exercises to improve your back health while your pain levels are low. It’s important to follow your treatment plan, as you can improve your back health by following all of your doctor’s recommendations.


When to Ask a Doctor About Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection

When it comes to back pain, the earlier you seek treatment, the higher the chances that your doctor can help you through non-invasive methods. It’s rare for spinal conditions to clear up on their own and your pain could worsen to the point where you can’t work, sit, or sleep comfortably.

Talk to your doctor as soon as the pain starts to interfere with your day-to-day life. You should also get help if your lower back pain becomes chronic – which means that it has been consistent for more than six weeks.

There is no guarantee that your doctor will recommend a lumbar epidural steroid injection to treat your back pain. They may want to try other treatments first or you might not be a candidate to receive these shots. However, you can always ask about ESIs and whether they are right for you.


Choose the Best Doctors for Your Spinal Health

Lower back pain can make almost any task seem impossible. If you live with pain, seek out a skilled and experienced specialist in your area to help you regain your mobility and comfort. If you live in Beverly Hills, Miami, Palm Beach, or surrounding areas, request an appointment with Dr. Todd H. Lanman at the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center.

Dr. Lanman is a leading Spinal Neurosurgeon with over 30 years of experience treating spinal disorders and helping patients reduce their pain levels at his Beverly Hills practice and, recently, his expanded locations across the US. A principal investigator for advanced disc replacement clinical trials, Dr. Lanman has published peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on topics relating to neurological conditions and is dedicated to helping his patients by accurately identifying and treating the source of their back pain.

Don’t wait to get relief from your back pain. Request an appointment today to meet with Dr. Lanman for a comprehensive consultation and get back to living the life you deserve.


Ready to reclaim your life? Get in touch today.