Your doctor may have suggested you have a lumbar epidural injection. This procedure can help relieve low back and leg pain by reducing inflammation (swelling and irritation). An injection also can help your doctor diagnose the source of your pain by numbing certain areas of your back. Where you are injected depends on the goal of the injection.
A lumbar epidural injection won't stop all low back and leg pain. But it can reduce pain and break the pain cycle. This cycle may begin when back pain makes it hard to move. Lack of movement can then slow down healing. By getting you back on your feet, the injection can help speed your recovery. Some people may feel more relief from an injection than others. And some people may need more than one injection to get relief.
An injection can help locate the source of pain. Also called a selective nerve block or a selective epidural, it numbs the roots of specific nerves. The effect lasts only briefly. But if you feel relief, it may indicate the source of the pain. If you feel no relief, it may mean that the pain's source is at another level in your spine. Or it may mean that something other than inflammation is causing the pain. Injection results also may be used to help plan back surgery, if needed.
Learn more about your back anatomy. That way, you can understand how an injection can help relieve or locate your pain.
Where the medicine is injected in your spine depends on the goal of the injection. For pain relief, the injection is done in the epidural space. This is the area that surrounds the nerves within the spinal canal. To locate the source of the pain, your doctor may target a specific nerve root. Medicine is then injected directly onto that nerve root.
A lumbar epidural injection is an outpatient procedure. It's often done in a hospital or an outpatient surgery center. Before your injection, your doctor will ask you questions about your health. He or she also will discuss how you need to prepare.
Your doctor may ask you to prepare by doing the following:
You'll be asked to fill out and sign some forms when you check in. These can include surveys about your pain. Your doctor also may give you a brief physical exam. Finally, you may receive an IV (intravenous) line to give you fluids and medicine.
The injection takes just a few minutes. But extra time is needed to get ready. You may be given medicine before the injection to help you relax.
You'll spend up to an hour in a recovery area. Before going home, you may be asked to fill out another survey about your pain. You may notice some side effects. They should go away in the first few days. They can include:
You don't need to stay in bed when you get home. In fact, it's best to walk around if you feel up to it. Just be careful about being too active. Even if you feel better right away, avoid activities that may strain your back. Keep in mind that some patients may feel increased pain at first. It usually goes away within a few days.
An injection to reduce inflammation takes a day or two to work. There may even be more pain at first. An injection to help locate the source of pain may give only brief pain relief. Later, you'll feel the same as you did before the injection. Follow up on treatment with your doctor. Whether you were injected for pain relief or diagnosis, these tips will help you recover:
Exercises and good body mechanics (how you move) may help keep pain from returning or worsening. The exercises below help build strength and flexibility. Your doctor may suggest other exercises for you to try. Call your doctor if you feel any new or lasting pain after exercising.
No matter how strong your back is, lift safely to prevent injuries: Make it a rule to follow these steps:
Whether your injection was for relieving pain or locating pain, you can take steps toward a healthier back. Talk to your doctor. Learn the best way to treat your pain. If it worsens, let your doctor know. But often, your back health is under your control. Exercise and good body mechanics help. Other choices in your life also can make a difference.
Download: Lumbar Epidural Injections Brochure