Physicians often use epidural steroid injections to diagnose and treat conditions in the lumbar spine (lower back). By injecting a combination of anesthetic and corticosteroid medications into a specific part of the spine, it’s not only possible to determine whether a nerve or joint is the cause of a patient’s pain, but also to help alleviate that pain on a longer-term basis.
Epidural injections can be used to diagnose conditions such as:
- Sciatica (sciatic nerve compression)
- Herniated discs
- Pinched nerve roots
If the injection of a temporary numbing agent (anesthetic) in a specified part of the lower spine causes immediate pain relief, then the physician can be fairly certain that the cause of the pain has been correctly identified.
Valuable as they can be, diagnostic injections are not usually the only test to be performed for the purpose of identifying the cause of lower back pain. Imaging scans also play a valuable role in the diagnosis of lumbar spine conditions. Diagnostic injections are most commonly recommended if the results of an imaging scan are not conclusive and a physician needs to further investigate which nerve or joint in the lower back is compressed or inflamed.
Epidural steroid injections as a form of treatment
Depending on a patient’s specific diagnosis, epidural injections of steroids (cortisone) can also be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. For instance, epidural steroid injections can be administered to the lumbar spine to help alleviate pain at the same time as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications and hot/cold therapy. The results can last for several weeks or months, with some patients experiencing relief that lasts for years. In many instances, a combination of nonsurgical treatments such as these can adequately alleviate a patient’s discomfort and prevent or delay the need for lower back surgery. However, like other forms of conservative treatment, injections are only intended to alleviate pain, not specifically address its underlying cause.