Epidural injections and nerve blocks are injections administered in the spinal region to alleviate pain in the body. An epidural injection is administered in the epidural space, the outer space of the spinal canal that contains blood vessels and fatty tissue. A nerve block is injected at a specific nerve root, where the nerve exits the spinal column.
Why Epidural Injections and Nerve Blocks Are Performed
Epidural injections are used to treat pain associated with:
- Chronic low back pain
- Chronic pain in the legs
- Chronic neck pain
- Chronic pain in the middle region of the spine
Nerve blocks are used to treat pain that is associated with a specific nerve path, radiating into an arm or leg.
What to Expect During Epidural Injection and Nerve Block Procedures
Epidural injections and nerve blocks typically take one hour to complete, including observation and recovery time. The patient is asked to lie face down on an x-ray table with a pillow under the abdomen. Then, they are given an intravenous sedative to help him/her relax. Next, the injection area is cleaned and then numbed using a topical anesthetic. The pain specialist uses images from an x-ray machine to guide the needle and to ensure proper administration of the medication.
Risks Associated with Epidural Injections and Nerve Blocks
Risks associated with epidural injections and nerve blocks include:
- Bleeding at the injection site
- Nerve damage (very rare)
Benefits of Epidural Injections and Nerve Blocks
Epidural injections and nerve blocks provide relief from lower back pain and pain associated with sciatica without the need for surgery. Additionally, these non-surgical approaches apply medication directly to the source of pain, providing concentrated effects and reducing the side effects commonly experienced by systemic treatments like oral pain medications. While pain-free, patients can start and progress in a physical therapy program to stretch and strengthen the back, legs, or arms, so that they can ultimately achieve long-term pain relief.
How to Prepare for an Epidural Injection or Nerve Block
The medical team may instruct patients to refrain from eating or drinking after midnight the evening before the procedure. It is important for patients to discuss all medications they are currently taking with the pain specialist. Certain medications, like insulin or blood thinners, will need to be adjusted before the procedure to reduce the risk of complications.
Post Epidural Injection or Nerve Block Treatment
Patients are prohibited from driving for 24 hours following the procedure. Epidural injections and nerve blocks provide temporary relief that can last from one week to up to one year, depending on the intensity and location of the pain. It is likely that patients will need recurring injections to achieve long-term pain relief.
Pain Management Locations
To find a pain management specialist,
MedStar Washington Hospital Center
110 Irving Street, NW
Washington, DC 20010
MedStar Health at Lafayette Centre
1133 21st St. NW
Washington, DC 20036
MedStar Health at Brandywine
13950 Brandywine Road
Brandywine, MD 20613