Are Your Discs Worn Down?
Back and neck pain are among the most common ailments plaguing American adults today. Most of these cases are due to degenerative disc disease. Between each pair of vertebrae are tough yet flexible discs. Over time, or due to injury or arthritis, these discs can wear down. Degenerative discs can lead to nerve pain, stiffness, weakness, and general discomfort. Steroid injections are a useful non-surgical option to help control pain and improve quality of life.
The injection you need
Steroid injections provide a combination of anesthesia and corticosteroids directly into the epidural area of the spine. Most doctors suggest steroid injections if other conservative methods, like oral pain medication or physical therapy (PT), fail. The goal of the injection is to provide immediate pain relief while interrupting specific signals to the brain. A particular advantage is that the medication goes directly to the affected area, providing more effective, long-term relief. On average, steroid injections work for 3-6 months, with patients allowed up to 3 injections per year. Sometimes, steroid injections can diagnose a more severe issue like a herniated disc.
What to expect during the procedure
Steroid injections are quick and non-invasive, and patients can return to work after a short recovery. A pain management specialist or primary care practitioner (PCP) usually provides the treatment. First, the patient will lie face down on the examination table. Next, a local anesthetic numbs the back or neck area. In some cases, the patient may receive pain medication beforehand. An x-ray tool called fluoroscopy helps the doctor guide the needle to the affected area. Finally, the steroid is injected, and the patient will feel slight discomfort. After a short monitoring period, the patient can leave the office.
Making the best of it
Some patients feel immediate relief after the injection, while others require a short wait before the pain medication can take effect. There will be some pain and soreness at the injection site, which will go away within a few days. Studies show that most patients notice a minimum of 50% improvement in pain after the treatment. The doctor will also recommend the patient make lifestyle changes to maximize the effectiveness of the medication. For instance, patients must review posture and ergonomics at work or in sports. A healthy, anti-inflammatory diet and continuing PT can help. Pain management specialists may also recommend other procedures like chiropractic care, massage, or acupuncture.
Steroid injections are a simple but effective procedure. The treatment takes less than 1 hour and can happen in the doctor’s office. Before the injection, disclose all medication and supplement use. Some doctors may suggest stopping smoking or excess alcohol use before the procedure. The patient should plan to have a friend or family member drive home from the procedure and get as much rest as possible afterward. Degenerative disc disease continues to impact millions and can lead to more severe discomfort and weakness. Steroid injections allow patients to continue with conservative treatment while improving life quality.