Interventional Radiology

Steroid Injections

Steroid injections are an important tool in locating and treating spinal and joint pain. Interventional Radiologists use image-guidance, ensuring the most accurate placement of this medication.

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Uses for this Treatment

Epidural Steroid Injection

Epidural – Space outside the dura or covering of the spinal cord. This space runs the length of the spine.

General Information:

Epidural Steroid Injections (ESIs) are a common method of treating inflammation associated with low back or related leg pain. In both of these conditions, the spinal nerves become inflamed due to narrowing of the passages where the nerves travel as they pass down or out of the spine. Injection into the epidural space places medication along nerves as they exit the spinal canal.

Why Get an Epidural Steroid Injection?

Narrowing of the spinal passages can occur from a variety of causes, including disc herniations, bone spurs, thickening of the ligaments in the spine, joint cysts, or even abnormal alignment of the vertebrae (‘slipped vertebrae’, also known as spondylolisthesis). The epidural space is a fat filled ‘sleeve’ that surrounds the spinal sac and provides cushioning for the nerves and spinal cord. Steroids (‘cortisone’) placed into the epidural space have a very potent anti-inflammatory action that can decrease pain and allow patients to improve function. Although steroids do not change the underlying condition, they can break the cycle of pain and inflammation and allow the body to compensate for the condition. In this way, the injections can provide benefits that outlast the effects of the steroid itself.

How Are Epidural Steroid Injections Performed?

spine3There are three common methods for delivering steroids into the epidural space: the interlaminar, caudal, and transforaminal approaches. All three approaches entail placing a thin needle into position using fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance. Prior to the injection of steroid, contrast dye is used to confirm that the medication is traveling into the desired area. Often, local anesthetic is added along with the steroid to provide temporary pain relief.

An interlaminar ESI, often referred to as an ‘epidural injection’, involves placing the needle into the back of the epidural space and delivering the steroid over a wider area.

Similarly, the caudal approach uses the sacral hiatus (a small boney opening just above the tailbone) to allow for needle placement into the very bottom of the epidural space. With both approaches, the steroid will often spread over several spinal segments and cover both sides of the spinal canal.

With a transforaminal ESI, the needle is placed alongside the nerve as it exits the spine and medication is placed into the ‘nerve sleeve’. The medication then travels up the sleeve and into the epidural space from the side. This allows for a more concentrated delivery of steroid into one affected area (usually one segment and one side). A transforaminal ESI can provide diagnostic benefit, in addition to improved pain and function.

All three procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and you can usually return to your pre-injection level of activities the following day. Some patients request mild sedation for the procedure, but many patients undergo the injection using only local anesthetic at the skin.

What Happens After the Injection?

The steroid will usually begin working within 1-3 days, but in some cases it can take up to a week to feel the benefits. Although uncommon, some patients will experience an increase in their usual pain for several days following the procedure. The steroids are generally very well tolerated, however, some patients may experience side effects, including a ‘steroid flush’ (flushing of the face and chest that can last several days and can be accompanied by a feeling of warmth or even a low grade increase in temperature), anxiety, trouble sleeping, changes in menstrual cycle, or temporary water retention. These side effects are usually mild and will often resolve within a few days. If you are diabetic, have an allergy to contrast dyes, or have other serious medical conditions, you should discuss these with your doctor prior to the injection.

Epidural steroid injections have been performed for many decades and are generally considered as a very safe and effective treatment for back or leg pain. Serious complications are rare, but could include allergic reaction, bleeding, infection, nerve damage, or paralysis. When performed by an experienced physician using fluoroscopic guidance, the risk of experiencing a serious complication is minimized. Overall, ESIs are usually very well-tolerated.

Although not everyone obtains pain relief with ESIs, often the injections can provide you with improvement in pain and function that last several months or longer. If you get significant benefit, the injections can be safely repeated periodically to maintain the improvements. Injections are also commonly coupled with other treatments (medications, physical therapy, etc) in an attempt to either maximize the benefit or prolong the effects. You should consult with your doctor to develop a comprehensive care plan.

Hip Joint Injection

Are you experiencing pain caused by the hip joint?

The hip joint is a large joint where the leg joins the pelvis. If this joint experiences arthritis, injury or mechanical stress, one may experience hip, buttock, leg or low back pain. A hip joint injection may be considered for patients with these symptoms. The injection can help relieve the pain, as well as help diagnose the direct cause of pain. Hip joint injections involve injecting medicine directly into the joint. These injections can help diagnose the source of pain, as well as alleviate the discomfort:

Diagnostic function:
By placing numbing medicine into the joint, the amount of immediate pain relief experienced will help confirm or deny the joint as a source of pain. If complete pain relief is achieved while the hip joint is numb it means this joint is likely to be the source of pain.

Pain relief function:
Along with the numbing medication, steroid “cortisone” is also injected into these joints to reduce inflammation, which can often provide long-term pain relief.

Hip joint injection procedure
Fluoroscopy (x-ray) is commonly used in hip joint injections for guidance in properly targeting and placing the needle, and for avoiding large blood vessels and nerves.

On the day of the injection, patients are advised to avoid driving and doing any strenuous activities.

The hip joint injection procedure includes the following steps:

1) An IV line may be started so that adequate relaxation medicine can be given, if needed.

2) The patient lies on their back on an x-ray table and the skin over the hip is well cleaned.

3) The physician numbs a small area of skin with an anesthetic (a numbing medicine). The patient may feel a sting that will last for a few seconds.

4) The physician uses x-ray guidance (fluoroscopy) to direct a very small needle into the joint. Several drops of contrast dye are then injected to confirm that the medicine only reaches the joint.

5) A small mixture of anesthetic and steroid “cortisone” is then slowly injected into the joint.

The injection itself only takes a few minutes, but the overall procedure will usually take between thirty and sixty minutes. After the hip joint injection procedure, the patient typically remains resting on the table for a few minutes, and then is asked to move the area of usual discomfort to try to provoke the usual pain. Patients may or may not obtain pain relief in the first few hours after the injection, depending upon whether or not the joint that was injected is the main source of the patient’s pain. On occasion, the patient may feel numb or experience a slightly weak or odd feeling in the leg for a few hours after the injection.

Pain relief after a hip joint injection

Patients may notice a slight increase in pain lasting for a few days as the numbing medicine wears off and the cortisone is just starting to take effect. If the area is uncomfortable in the first two to three days after the injection, applying ice or a cold pack to the general area of the injection site will typically provide pain relief and appear more beneficial than applying heat.

If the hip joint that was treated is the source of the pain, the patient may begin to notice pain relief starting two to five days after the injection. If no improvement occurs within ten days after the injection, then the patient is unlikely to gain any pain relief from the injection and further diagnostic tests may be needed to accurately diagnose the patient’s pain.

Patients may continue to take their regular medications after the procedure, with the exception of limiting pain medicine within the first four to six hours after the injection, so that the diagnostic information obtained is accurate. Patients may be referred for physical therapy or manual therapy after the injection while the numbing medicine is effective and/or over the next several weeks while the cortisone is working.

On the day after the procedure, patients may return to their regular activities. When the pain has improved, it is advisable to start regular exercise and activities in moderation. Even if the pain relief is significant, it is still important to increase activities gradually over one to two weeks to avoid recurrence of pain. Injections are also commonly coupled with other treatments (medications, physical therapy, etc) in an attempt to either maximize the benefit or prolong the effects. You should consult with your doctor to develop a comprehensive care plan.

Sacroiliac Joint Steroid Injection

The sacroiliac joints consist of two large joints that connect the sacrum to the pelvic bones on each side. Like any joint, these can become involved with arthritis and thus become painful.
Injection of local anesthetic into the joint can help determine if it is a major cause of the patient’s symptoms. Research shows that sacroiliac pain is very often confused with back pain from the spine.

When is the Sacroiliac Joint Steroid Injection required?
The sacroiliac (SI) joint Injection is performed to relieve pain caused by arthritis in the sacroiliac joint, where the spine and pelvic bone meet.

In general, a sacroiliac joint block is performed to achieve one or both of the below goals:

Diagnostic: Diagnostic blocks are administered with the purpose of trying and establishing the exact structural abnormality causing the symptoms. This is also known as finding the ‘pain generator’.

In this type of an injection, corticosteroids are injected to reduce the inflammation at the source of the problem that is causing the symptoms. An SI joint injection can be repeated up to 3-5 times per year.

What is the procedure?

The procedure is aimed at placing the medication into the sacroiliac joint, either on the left or right side. Normally these injections are done with computed tomography (CT) guidance, as this best insures that the injected medicine is delivered well into the joint.

1) An IV line may be started so that adequate relaxation medicine can be given, if needed.

2) The patient lies on their stomach and the skin over the posterior back is well cleaned.

3) The physician numbs a small area of skin with an anesthetic (a numbing medicine). The patient may feel a sting that will last for a few seconds.

4) Physician uses computed tomography (CT) to direct a very small needle into the joint.

5) A small mixture of anesthetic and steroid “cortisone” is then slowly injected. The needle is removed and a small band-aid is used to cover the entry site. The procedure takes 20 to 30 minutes for one joint and requires no special patient preparation.

The injection should be followed by other treatments (medication, physical therapy, etc.) to provide mobilization and range of motion exercises.

Therapeutic Steroid Injections

Corticosteroids are powerful medicines used to reduce inflammation in the body. They can be added to any of the diagnostic injections discussed in the previous section and may provide longer pain relief. They can be injected into joints or along inflamed nerves.

Unlike local anesthetics, the onset of action of steroid medication is variable and can range from immediate to several days or even a week. For diagnostic injections, this can mean a gap between the relief of the local anesthetic and the onset of improvement from the longer acting steroids.

More than one injection of the steroid may be necessary in a given area. Long-term use of steroids does carry risk factors. These can range from increased bone loss and possible bone fracture or loss of blood supply to suppression of the adrenal glands and interference with blood sugar control in diabetics. Usually, the short-term benefits far outweigh the long-term risks. Patients undergoing surgery should remind their physicians that they have been taking steroid treatments. Most physicians try to limit the number of steroid injections to around three in a six-month period.

Potential risks of steroid injections
As with any procedure, there is a risk of complications. Possible side effects from a steroid injection include:

- Allergic reactions to the medications used
- Infection (occurs in less than 1 per 15,000 injections)
- Mental status changes (anxiety, hyperactivity and possible pyschosis, especially in patients with history of bipolar disorder)
- Post-injection flare (joint swelling and pain several hours after the corticosteroid injection)
- Depigmentation (a whitening of the skin)
- Local fat atrophy (thinning of the skin)
- Rupture of a tendon located in the path of the injection
- Blurred vision, frequent urination, increased thirst
- Change in blood sugar levels, especially in diabetic patient

If fever, chills, increased pain, weakness or loss of bowel/bladder function occurs, you should immediately seek medical attention.

All of these procedures/injections can easily be done by interventional radiology. You can ask for a referral from your doctor, call Advanced Medical Imaging at 402-484-6677 or call the radiology department of any hospital and ask for interventional radiology.

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Procedure Process

Before your Procedure

Before having an injection, talk with your doctor about the advantages of this treatment, as well as any possible risks you may face from getting the shot. It's also a good idea to check with your doctor about having someone with you to drive you home — depending on the location of the injection, this may be necessary.

During your Procedure

Your doctor will likely ask about any health problems you have, as well as what medications you normally take and whether you have any allergies. Then, they may have you change into a gown, depending on where you are receiving the shot. You'll be asked to sit or lie on a clean examination table, and the injection site will be thoroughly cleansed. You may be given a numbing medication that's applied to the injection site to help prevent any discomfort or pain.

For some injections, your doctor may use an X-ray or ultrasound machine to pinpoint the precise location for the injection. When ready, your doctor will carefully insert the needle through your skin, and you may feel some pressure as this happens. Then the medication will be injected into the treatment area.

After your Procedure

In the first few hours after your injection, you may notice a decrease in the level of your pain. However, this is usually due to the numbing medication your doctor used before giving you the cortisone shot. In the first few days after receiving the shot, it's possible that your pain level will be the same as it was before your treatment.

Many people have a small amount of redness and swelling around the injection site. If this happens, you can apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or other protective layer for no more than 20 minutes at a time, two to three times each day. It may also be a good idea to avoid a lot of activity the same day you get the injection. If you notice any extreme redness, swelling, or pain, or if you start running a fever, contact your doctor immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Are there any side effects to a steroid injection?

The most common side effect from cortisone shots is pain at the injection site, which should resolve within a few days. Some doctors will use a local anesthetic to reduce the immediate discomfort from the injection, which can cause a temporary increase in pain as it wears off. Icing the area for 20 minutes every 2-3 hours for the first night, and resting the affected joint for at least 24 hours can reduce discomfort. Other side effects or risks of cortisone injections include cartilage damage with repeated injections, tendon weakening or rupture, lightening of the surrounding skin and joint infection.

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