For a long time, it was believed that spinal stenosis is greatly relieved by steroid injections, but recent research proves otherwise. The new study has analyzed both the positive and the negative effects of the treatment based on data collected from adult patients diagnosed with low back pain or spinal stenosis.
According to senior author of the study Dr. Roger Chou from Oregon Science and Health University, this recommended course of treatment isn’t as effective as previously perceived. It is true, however, that the injections offer immediate pain relief, which is why doctors were recommending them.
But for the long run, epidural steroids injections had no better effects than a placebo, as researchers have noticed, and the patient’s need for surgery was not reduced at all. Reviewing the evidence showed that the outcome was not influenced by the technique of injection or by the type of steroid administered.
The good news, however, is that the study did not find the injections to have any negative impact; apart from rare blood clots, small bleeding events, and sometimes nerve soreness, the patient’s situation did not worsen.
Dr. Chou emphasized that in spite of the immediate pain relief, the patients need to understand and weigh the short-term benefits against potential side-effects, such as nerve injury or infection. When you take the injections off the table, however, another problem arises: there are limited options for treatment, and surgery remains the patients’ only viable alternative.
Not all experts in the field agree with the new analysis, and Dr. Zack McCormick from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine thinks that the recent findings are not applicable for real cases of spinal medicine.
He explains that administering epidural steroid injections is not meant to become a long term cure, but rather offer pain relief. That way, the patient can enjoy a better sleep, and have its quality of life restored in order for the physical therapy to take effect.
Despite previous studies showing similar results, doctors keep on recommending these injections as treatment for stenosis – the narrowing of the spaces between the spine’s bones – or for low back pain.
They might not be as beneficial as physicians have thought, but they offer significant relief to 60 percent of the patients who receive them. Each year, more than a million people are administered epidural injections either with local anesthetic or steroids, and so far, their benefits are still outweighing the risks.
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