Epidural steroid injections can be very effective for acutely reducing nerve pain; however, new research finds these injections may be unsustainable for long term recovery.
The goal of epidural steroid injections is to relieve lower back pain, but also to be used in conjunction with a comprehensive rehabilitation program. The injection can provide sufficient pain relief to allow a patient to make progress with any rehabilitative stretching or exercising. However, the review suggests that perhaps short term pain relief from a steroid injection is not enough to decrease long-term surgery risk. Should a patient experience effective results from epidural steroid injections, they may return to receive up to three injections within a year.
The research team reviewed 8 trials of spinal stenosis, 30 studies of radiculopathy, and 63 published reports about the use of epidural steroid injections for lower back pain. The most common conclusion was that steroid injections provide an immediate improvement in pain, patient function, and short term surgery risk; however, these improvements were small and had “no effect” on long-term surgery risk. Among the patients in the trials that involved spinal stenosis, the results showed no clear difference between a placebo and epidural injection. Researchers suggest that steroid injections only offer mild, temporary relief, and may be no better than a placebo for those suffering from herniated discs or spinal stenosis.
Researchers are coming to these conclusions more often. In 2013, a review published in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care found that after six months, epidural steroid injection therapies offered no long-term pain relief and were no more useful at preventing surgery than placebo or other treatments. More recently, a March 2015 study came to a similar conclusion when looking at painkillers for people with lumbosacral radicular pain as a result of herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
Of course, patients pursuing short-term pain relief may still find it worthwhile to seek steroid injections. What’s most important is for patients to be able to make informed decisions. No one study serves as the end-all, be-all of a medical consensus.
If you are experiencing back pain, the first step should be consulting your doctor. Contact our office to make an appointment.