Although epidural steroid injections (also called epidural corticosteroid injections) may be helpful to confirm a diagnosis, they should be used primarily after a specific presumptive diagnosis has been established. Also, injections should not be used in isolation, but rather in conjunction with a program stressing muscle flexibility, strengthening, and functional restoration.
Epidural injections and intradiscal injections have been used in the treatment of non-radicular degenerative disc disease with limited success. Proper follow-up after injections to assess the patient's treatment response and ability to progress in the rehabilitation program is essential. A limited number of injections can be tried to reduce pain, but careful monitoring of the response is required prior to a second or third injection.
In fact, the anatomical studies have demonstrated that after the radicular medullary arteries enter the neuroforamen in the anterior aspect of exiting nerve root and dorsal root ganglion, they often travel a distance superiorly and laterally in the lateral epidural space to join the anterior spinal artery supplying the anterior two thirds of the spinal cord. Additionally, in about 63% of cases of cadaver studies, there is a posterior branch of the radicular medullary artery going to the dorsal aspect of the cauda equina. It is conceivable that the epidural needle in the interlaminar lumbar epidural steroid injection will very likely encounter the radicular medullar artery in the lateral aspect of the epidural space or midline posterior epidural space.
This is a rare complication that may occur if a small hole is made in the fibrous sac and does not close up after the needle puncture. These small holes are only made in less than 1% of epidural injections and usually heal on their own. The spinal fluid inside can leak out, and when severe, the brain loses the cushioning effect of the fluid, which causes a severe headache when you sit or stand. These types of headaches occur typically about 2-3 days after the procedure and are positional - they come on when you sit or stand and go away when you lie down. If you do develop a spinal headache, it is OK to treat yourself. As long as you do not feel ill and have no fever and the headache goes away when you lay down, you may treat yourself with 24 hours of bed rest with bathroom privileges while drinking plenty of fluids. This almost always works. If it does not, contact the radiologist who performed the procedure or your referring physician. A procedure (called an epidural blood patch) can be performed in the hospital that has a very high success rate in treating spinal headaches.