When medications and more conservative herniated disc treatments have not been helpful for treating your symptoms of a herniated disc your doctor may refer you to a specialist for steroid injections.
Steroid medicines such as methylprednisolone or triamcinolone have strong anti-inflammatory effects when injected around a herniated disc that is pinching a nerve.
Anti-inflammatory medications can help relieve back pain and reduce swelling.
Reducing the amount of swelling can make more room for the nerves.
Removing the pressure or squeeze on nerves will help to relieve the pain radiating into your arm or leg.
The Nerves Control Everything
The nerves control everything so these injections can also help to improve any muscle weakness that you may be experiencing.
Also, for people who are having problems with their bowels or bladder, making more room for the nerves may also improve your bowel and/or bladder function.
There are Always Risks
Anytime you have an injection there is always a risk of bleeding, infection and damage to nerves.
Luckily, when these herniated disc treatments are performed in a modern facility under flouroscopy by a trained specialist using sterile techniques the risk is very low.
Steroid medications can be placed directly into the area of a herniated disc.
Image thanks to Bausen.comstaff."Blausen gallery2014", via Wikimedia Commons
Using flouroscopy or x-ray monitoring the specialist can see exactly where he is placing the needle. This minimizes the chance of injury to nerves, blood vessels, and other important structures.
For People on Blood Thinners
There are no major blood vessels in this area and the needles that are used are really very small so the risks of major bleeding is really very low for most people.
However, for people using blood thinners such as Coumadin, Plavix, or Pradaxa there is increased risk. Most doctors will require you to stop these medications for 3-5 days prior to the injection.
This is to prevent any bleeding into the spinal canal which is a closed space. Excessive bleeding into this area can cause increased pressure on the nerves leading to making your symptoms worse.
The Biggest Risk
Perhaps the biggest risk of herniated disc treatment with steroid injections to treat a herniated disc is that it will not help or that it will not last very long. Injected steroids will stay in place for about 6 weeks as they are gradually absorbed by your body.
However, how much relief you get and how long it lasts is very variable. Some people will get one injection and be symptom free for months or even years. Other people will get 3 injections and get little or no relief of their symptoms.
Studies do not Show Pressure
MRIs and other studies used to evaluate and diagnose a herniated disc may show the ruptured disc.
But they cannot really tell how much pressure is on the nerve that is being pinched.
Get the Maximum Effect
In some cases even though the steroids reduce swelling and inflammation it may not be enough to relieve your symptoms.
Many doctors will perform a series of 2 or 3 injections to get the maximum effect.
More Aggressive Treatments
If after 2 steroid injections into the injured area your symptoms are not tolerable you may need to consider more aggressive treatments such as surgery.