A cervical spine condition can lead to pain that radiates through your shoulders and down your arms.

See Could That Shoulder Pain Really Stem From the Neck?

An epidural steroid injection delivers steroids directly to the painful area.
Cervical Epidural Steroid Injection Video

If this is the case for you, an injection of cortisone steroid can be a great short-term solution. Read on for a step-by-step overview of this common procedure:

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Pain in the cervical spine is often caused by inflammation around your nerves. Your nerve roots, nerves, spinal cord, and cerbrospinal fluid are all contained in a sac called the dura.

See Cervical Spine Anatomy and Neck Pain

The epidural space, where the needle is placed during your injection, surrounds the dura.

Why cervical epidural steroid injections are needed

The above image pictures the path of the nerves in the neck (in purple) as they travel down through the shoulders and into the arms and hands.

See What Causes Hand Pain and Numbness?

When nerves in this area are pinched or irritated, you may feel pain along this path. This pain is referred to as cervical radiculopathy.

See Cervical Radiculopathy Treatment

Epidural steroid injections are intended to treat pain provoked by conditions that cause inflammation and/or irritation to the nerves as they exit the spine on each side of the vertebrae.

See Cervical Nerves

Conditions that can cause cervical radiculopathy include:

The cervical epidural injection procedure

To prepare for the injection, you will be asked to lie face down. Your doctor will then numb the area around the injection site with anesthetic.

See Epidural Injection Procedure

Next, your surgeon will use X-ray guidance and contrast dye, called fluoroscopy, to watch the needle (pictured above) going into the cervical epidural space and position it properly.

Once the needle is properly positioned, your doctor will inject a cortisone steroid solution (which is an anti-inflammatory medication). This medication is intended to alleviate your inflammation, which in turn can decrease your nerve pain.

Procedure outcomes

Often, the purpose of a cervical epidural steroid injection it to provide enough short-term pain relief to allow you to begin, or continue, an exercise program. This exercise program can then bring you long-term relief from your pain.

See Neck Exercises for Neck Pain

It is important to note that the procedure is estimated to relieve a patient's pain only about 50% of the time; and in some cases this pain relief may be permanent.

See Epidural Steroid Injection Pain Relief Success Rates

If a cervical epidural steroid injection brings partial relief from your pain, you can receive another injection for additional relief.

Risks and complications

As with any medical procedure, there are risks and complications associated with a cervical epidural steroid injection. These include:

  • Bleeding
  • Nerve damage
  • Infection

See Epidural Results and Precautions

Learn more:

Cervical Pain from Joint Degeneration

Epidural Steroid Injections: Risks and Side Effects