Back pain is a leading cause of disability in people around the world, and it can occur anywhere along the spine from the neck to the lower back. Approximately 80 percent of adults will experience this type of pain in their lifetime, driving them to visit a doctor to find relief. Therapeutic spine injections of pain medication are a common treatment for relieving back or neck pain when more conservative treatments have not worked well.
What is a Spinal Injection?
The spine has three main segments:
- Cervical spine (neck area)
- Thoracic spine (area between the neck and lower back)
- Lumbar spine (lower back)
When pain develops in any of these areas, one of the first treatments is taking a steroid medication along with doing targeted exercises and perhaps working with a physical therapist. Unfortunately, taking these steps does not always relieve the pain or the pain prevents doing any type of exercise. A lot depends on the cause of the pain which could be something like a herniated disc or arthritis that has eroded the cushioning cartilage between the vertebrae. When inflammation refuses to subside and nerve compression continues, the pain persists.
Spinal injections are used to inject a mediation like a corticosteroid and perhaps an anesthetic into a specific area of the spine. Steroids are powerful medications that can reduce inflammation which in turn can reduce pain caused by the pressure being placed on nerves.
The spinal injections are used for another purpose too – diagnosing the source of the back or neck pain. The physician injects a steroid in the spinal area believed to be the source of pain. If the pain subsides, he or she is able to identify the specific problem area and perhaps recommend additional helpful treatments.
Types of Spine Injections
The neck and lower back are the two most common areas targeted for a spinal injection. Cervical spine injections are neck pain injections in which a steroid is injected into the neck area. A lumbar spine injection refers to a spine injection in the lower back. However, you can get a shot to relieve back pain anywhere along the spine.
The main types of spinal injections are the following.
Epidural Steroid Injections
The epidural steroid injections are one of the types of spine injections frequently used as neck injections for pain. The steroid and an anesthetic are injected into the spinal canal close to the space filled with fluid that surrounds the nerves and spinal cord. It is often used for pain caused by a pinched nerve or a condition called spinal stenosis in which the spaces in the spine are narrowed and place pressure on nerves.
Spinal stenosis occurs most frequently in the lumbar spine and cervical spine. The steroid and anesthetic reduce inflammation which, in turn, can provide pain relief. Patients are given local mild anesthesia before the injection.
Facet Joint Injections
Facet joints are the joints connecting the vertebrae (bones in the spine). Osteoarthritis is a common cause of joint inflammation, and the inflammation leads to pressure being placed on nerve roots.
The facet block or facet joint injection is a procedure in which a combination of corticosteroids and local anesthesia is injected directly into the joint. Inflammation in the joint is reduced which relieves nerve pressure. The doctor uses a fluoroscope (x-ray device) to guide the injection to the targeted joint.
After the Spinal Injection
It is important to know that spinal injections are not guaranteed to bring pain relief. In most people, there will be some degree of pain relief, but there is no way to predict the results of the spinal injection. The injection may take up to a week to relieve pain and can last for months. The injections only take about 30 minutes to administer, and you can resume your normal daily activities the next day.
Spinal Injections May Help Avoid Surgery
Pain management shots in the neck or pain shots in other spinal areas are the last resort before surgery. You may require only one injection to develop long-term relief. Sometimes, it takes more than one injection.
Spinal injections are not really considered a “cure.” Their purpose is to reduce inflammation and thus reduce pain enough to enable patients to resume other therapeutic activities, like daily exercise and physical therapy. Spinal injections for neck pain and spine injections in the lower back bring relief to millions of people every day. The risks are low, and the potential pain relief brings people suffering from back or neck pain hope of resuming normal life activities.