There are few things quite as debilitating as excruciating back pain. It seems to overtake your entire life, leaving you miserable and unable to accomplish ordinary tasks since every waking moment is spent penetrated by the pulsating pain in your back.
Often as a last resort, people suffering from severe back pain will turn to epidural steroid injections in the hopes of alleviating their unbearable discomfort, but something many people are entirely unaware of is how dangerous these injections can be. Even the FDA has warned people of the risky complications involved! (1, 2)
What Are Epidural Steroid Back Injections
An epidural steroid injection is a treatment commonly offered to patients suffering from lower back or leg pain, and they have been used to treat issues with people’s lower back since the early 1950s. They are currently used in medical practices for non-surgical treatments, but even with all of this practice, these injections are in no way ideal. In order to help alleviate pain in the spine, a doctor might inject steroids into a patient’s epidural space, which is a space between one’s spinal cord and the spinal bone structure. As practically anyone knows, the spine is an incredibly sensitive and vital portion of the body, and injections inserted into the epidural space are not only dangerous but also have a high risk of harm. (1, 3, 4)
There are a few different serums a doctor might inject into a patient, including steroids or cortisone, which serve as anti-inflammatory agents, lidocaine, which is a fast-acting anesthetic, or saline which is used to dilute local anesthetic. After the injection, anti-inflammatory effects are supposed to commence and then last anywhere from a couple of days to several months in order to relieve a patient of their back pain. However, since the epidural space is such a sensitive part of the body, this entire procedure is dangerous for a patient to undergo, more so than some doctors might fully explain! (1, 4
FDA Warns Against Epidural Back Injections
Per the FDA, “Experts in the practice of epidural steroid injections (ESIs) approached FDA for assistance in addressing the issue of rare, serious neurologic events observed in association with ESIs.” The FDA goes on to explain, “The working group drafted a set of clinical considerations intended to minimize the risks associated with ESIs. The clinical considerations were initially voted upon by representatives of several national organizations, and later discussed, revised, and voted upon by representatives and Boards of Directors of an expanded list of national organizations.”
Experts everywhere have started coming forward with concerns about epidural steroid injections, including national societies of anesthesiologists, pain medicine physicians, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, and radiologists, and the involvement of the FDA only proves the seriousness of the situation. (1, 2)
As part of FDA’s ongoing effort to investigate concerns over the safety of ESIs, the agency convened a two-day advisory committee meeting of external experts on November 24-25, 2014. The Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee Meeting discussed the risk of serious neurologic adverse reactions associated with ESIs administered to reduce inflammation for pain management. These considerations assist the Agency in its discussions of possible regulatory options, including but not limited to changes to product labeling. (5)
Ensuring that everyone clearly understands what injections are being used on their body, as well as the risks and effects, is essential if epidural steroid injections are still to be used.
So before you go to your doctor for an epidural steroid injection to cure your back pain, be sure you discuss the kind of procedure you’ll undergo as well as what your doctor plans on injecting into your body. Also keep in mind that there are more options than just injections to handle back pain, including certain therapies and exercises. Talk to your healthcare provider to find the best treatment for you!