A dysfunction in your cervical spine can lead to pain that radiates through your shoulder and down your arm. If you have this type of neck and arm pain, a cervical epidural steroid injection may help provide short-term relief. Read on to learn more about this common procedure.
How a cervical epidural steroid injection provides relief
Cervical epidural steroid injections are intended to treat pain provoked by conditions that cause inflammation to one or more cervical nerve roots. When a nerve root in the neck gets compressed or inflamed as it branches off the spinal cord and exits the spine, radicular pain can travel down the arm and into the hand. Cervical nerve root inflammation that leads to neurological deficits, such as numbness or weakness, is called cervical radiculopathy.
Conditions that can cause cervical radiculopathy and radicular pain include:
- Cervical herniated disc
- Cervical degenerative disc disease
- Cervical osteoarthritis
- Cervical spinal stenosis
Read more about Cervical Radiculopathy Causes and Risk Factors
When performed by a qualified medical professional, a cervical epidural steroid injection directly places cortisone steroid medicine into the area of the spine that surrounds the inflamed nerve root(s). This medication may help reduce nerve root inflammation and relieve the associated pain, such as arm pain.
Efficacy of cervical epidural steroid injections
The purpose of a cervical epidural steroid injection is typically to provide enough short-term pain relief to allow you to begin, or continue, an exercise program. This physical therapy or exercise program may help bring long-term pain relief by strengthening the muscles that support your spine.
Studies have estimated that 40% to 84% of patients receiving a cervical epidural steroid injection experienced at least partial relief.1 It is important to note that a cervical epidural steroid injection may not provide relief for some people.
If a cervical epidural steroid injection brings partial relief from your pain, you can receive another injection at a future date for additional relief.
The cervical epidural steroid injection procedure
A typical cervical epidural steroid injection with fluoroscopy takes about 15 to 30 minutes and follows these general steps:
- 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.
- Your doctor will use fluoroscopy (X-ray guidance) and contrast dye to position the needle safely in the spinal canal’s epidural space, which is located just outside the dura sac that contains cerebrospinal fluid and protects the spinal cord. The epidural space contains fat, small blood vessels, and the spinal nerve roots that have branched off the spinal cord. Using fluoroscopy and contrast dye is strongly recommended to increase safety and reduce the risk of placing the needle in the wrong spot.
- Once the needle is properly positioned, your doctor will inject a cortisone steroid solution into the epidural space to bathe the inflamed nerve root(s). Some people may notice tenderness at the injection site for a few hours after the procedure. It is typically advised to take things easy for the rest of the day after this procedure.
Read more: Epidural Injection Procedure
Potential risks and complications
While an epidural steroid injection is generally considered a low-risk procedure when performed by a qualified medical professional, risks and complications may include:
- Nerve damage
Before choosing to have a cervical epidural steroid injection, ask your doctor about the potential risks and benefits.