When back pain won’t go away, your doctor will consider all the treatments that could help you, from exercise and physical therapy to medication. Part of that may include injections to ease your back pain and inflammation. These shots usually consist of a steroid and a numbing medicine.
Keep in mind that while these shots help some people, not everyone gets the same relief.
What They Treat
Back injections may help treat two major back pain problems:
Inflammation or damage to a nerve, usually in the neck or the low back. Doctors call this “radiculopathy.” The problem originates where the nerveexits the spine. With radiculopathy, sharp pain shoots from the lower back down into one or both legs, or from the neck into the arm. A herniated disk can cause radiculopathy.
Spinal stenosis, which means that the spine has narrowed. This can happen because a herniated disk is pressing on the spine, or because a bone spur is jutting into that space, or, less commonly, if a tumor presses on the spine. Spinal stenosis compresses the nerves inside. This usually causes pain in the buttock or leg. You may or may not also have back pain. The pain from spinal stenosis may get worse when you’re active, and ease up when you lean forward.
Doctors also use injections for other types of back pain. Sometimes, they also use them to help find out what's causing the pain.
You can get injections in the area around the inflamed or damaged nerves. There are several kinds of injections, including:
- Nerve block
Nerve Block Injections
In a nerve block, a doctor injects the area around the nerve with a numbing medicine or anesthetic. Lidocaine is the anesthetic most commonly used.
After a nerve block injection, you’ll quickly have numbness with near-complete pain relief. It wears off after several hours.
Some doctors use nerve block injections to try to diagnose what's causing the back pain. If your doctor does this, you'll be asked which injection causes the back pain to go away. That nerve may then be chosen for an epidural injection with both steroid and anesthetic medicine. Or your doctor may decide to try another treatment.
Epidural means "around the spinal cord." These shots include a steroid medicine, also called corticosteroid, and usually an anesthetic medicine, too. How effective they are isn’t clear yet. Their effects seem to only last a short time and offer modest pain relief. So these might not be something you’d get for long-term back pain. And if your back pain started suddenly, there are other treatments your doctor would probably consider first.
Mild soreness or pain at the site after an injection for back pain is common. Headache, nausea, and vomiting can also happen.
It’s rare, but injections can cause bleeding or infection. You should discuss the risks and benefits -- and other options -- with your doctor.