Epidural steroid injections are often recommended for patients with sciatica, or compression of the sciatic nerve. This condition can cause severe pain in the lower back, hips, legs and feet as well as tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Epidural steroid injections are one potential treatment option for alleviating this discomfort.
Steroid injections contain short-acting and long-acting medications
A typical epidural steroid injection contains two types of medication. These include:
- A short-acting anesthetic to numb the area for a few hours
- A long-acting corticosteroid to alleviate inflammation and reduce pain for weeks or months
In some instances, additional fluids (e.g., saline solutions) can be added to the injection to help flush out inflammation-promoting agents within the spinal canal.
While corticosteroid medications do gradually wear off, many people experience longer-term benefits from epidural steroid injections. Some individuals have even reported an improvement in their symptoms for a year or more. Additionally, because injections deliver the medications directly to the source of the pain (as opposed to oral medications that are dispersed throughout the entire body), the benefits can be more targeted as well.
Injections as part of a comprehensive treatment plan
When used to treat sciatica, lumbar injections are usually combined with one or more nonsurgical treatment options. For instance, a patient might take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, attend physical therapy once a week and receive epidural injections once every few months. Medical professionals typically agree that patients can have up to three injections over a 12-month period.
While epidural steroid injections can help alleviate the symptoms of sciatica, they are not capable of decompressing a pinched sciatic nerve. If injections and other nonsurgical treatments do not provide an adequate level of pain relief, surgery might become an option for further sciatic nerve pain treatment.