Epidural Steroid Injection for Back Pain: How Long Does It Last?

When you suffer from lower back pain, it can be completely debilitating. Even non-strenuous activities like walking or driving a car can become unbearable if undertaken for extended lengths of time, and even simple tasks can cause severe pain. 

Fortunately, there are treatments available that can alleviate severe back pain short of surgery. One of the treatments that often proves effective for people with lower back pain is an epidural steroid injection, or ESI. ESI is often recommended when conventional therapies, such as using pain relievers or undertaking physical therapy, are not adequate to relieve the pain, and before considering the more aggressive step of surgery. ESI is also used to enable an individual to progress with a physical therapy regimen in the hope that the therapy will provide a more comprehensive way to address the pain.

One of the questions often asked when ESI is recommended as a therapy is: How long will the pain relief from ESA last? The answer will depend on several factors. 

How Steroid Injections Work

Steroid injections provide targeted relief to a specific area. ESI’s target the epidural area, the space around the spinal cord within the vertebrae. Doctors can deliver these injections in several ways. The transforaminal route is the most precise, as it delivers medicine directly to affected nerves. Interlaminar and caudal injections provide more general relief, placing medicine into the space around the nerves. The injection itself contains both a local anesthetic and steroidal medicine, and together these reduce pain and inflammation.

Prior to receiving a steroid injection, your doctor may recommend an MRI to examine your lower back and identify the area that needs treatment. X-rays may also be used to spot problem areas and guide the doctor’s administration of the injection. ESI’s are mostly used for lower back issues such as herniated discs or discs that suffer from degenerative conditions. They can also provide relief for acute back pain caused by a specific injury event–that is, what people colloquially referred to as “throwing your back out.”

Variable Pain Relief

The reason that it is difficult to predict exactly how long the pain relief will last from an ESI is that there are many variables. One of these variables is that the cause of the pain and the degree of injury varies from patient to patient. Another variable is how the injection is delivered. However, as a general rule, a patient can expect the pain relief to last anywhere from one to three months. In some patients, the pain relief may last as long as twelve months or even longer. 

Further, as noted above, an ESI is sometimes utilized for the purpose of making it possible for a patient to continue with physical therapy. In these cases, if the therapy itself provides a long-term solution for the pain, the use of the ESI in combination with the physical therapy can actually eliminate the need for a patient to undergo surgery. 

Multiple Injections

Whether ESI is an appropriate therapy for you will depend largely on your response to the first injection. If it is effective, your doctor will likely recommend that you get another if or when the pain returns. As indicated, there is no set timetable for these treatments, since the results vary in terms of how long the pain relief lasts. However, in general, no more than three ESI’s will be administered within a calendar year. 

ESI is just one of many non-surgical approaches to back pain. At St. Charles Spine Institute, we are constantly researching better ways to treat back problems. We know that back pain and spinal problems can severely impact an individual’s quality of life, and we keep current on new therapies and treatments that prove effective. ESI has proven itself to be an effective and relatively simple way to provide patients with immediate relief from pain, and, in some cases, enable a patient’s body to heal itself permanently.

If you would like to learn more about the different treatments available for back pain or problems, you can access more information in detailed webinars available our website. When you experience back pain, whether it appears suddenly as an acute episode or is a chronic issue, we can help. Contact St. Charles Spine Institute today to schedule a consultation.  

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