I have written already about what a slipped disc pain feels like and how at the end of 2021 I slipped a disc in my back and ended up with an L5/S1 herniation in my spine. I have shared how this pain went from discomfort and sciatic pain, to terrible debilitating pain in the space of a couple of months that took away my mobility and left me walking with a walking stick, and how awful it was. Now I want to talk about my experience of epidural steroid injections and how they helped with my pain and recovery.
I will add to the post that I am very fortunate that my husband has BUPA medical insurance with his work, which meant this treatment was not via the NHS where I know I would have faced much longer waiting times. However, I do believe the procedure is the same.
Next Step after Physio for Back Pain
If you injure your back and conservative pain management with painkillers and physio do not work, then the next step is an MRI to see exactly what is going on. As I mentioned above, my MRI showed an L5/S1 herniation, which meant that I had a slipped disc in my lower back. As physio did not help me to recover the next step that my consultant suggested was to have an epidural steroid spinal injection. This is an injection of steroids into the affected area of your spine. Which sounded pretty awful to me, having had lumbar punctures as a child, but it was thankfully done under sedation.
The idea of the injection is to reduce the inflammation, reduce pain and get you moving again. If you are able to move you have a higher chance of being able to get the disc to correct itself on its own. The figures quoted to me were high, that 70-80% who had the injections had a reduction in pain afterwards. So I approached the procedure nervous, but optimistic.
Are Spinal Steroid Injections Painful and What Happens During the Procedure?
If you’re reading this it may be that you have been referred for epidural or spinal injections yourself and I know how nervous I felt in the lead-up and therefore I thought I would share my experience.
I was booked to have spinal injections in February, but unfortunately, I caught covid and the procedure had to be postponed. At the time (and I am not sure if this is still the case), you could not have any anaesthesia or sedation until you were 7 weeks post covid, so my injections were rescheduled until the end of March. I found this hard, not only having covid, but having to wait another 7 weeks for much-needed pain relief. Very little touched the pain and I was existing on regular codeine which was from ideal.
On the day of the procedure, I had to go nil by mouth and had to go to the day surgery unit. When I arrived I had to change. I could wear my own pants, but no bra and a surgical gown. If you’re going in for the procedure I would recommend easy clothes to get on and off, but particularly back on again for afterwards. I had the usual stats taken and a pregnancy test to make sure I wasn’t pregnant. Then I was walked down to theatre assisted by two nurses. When I arrived in theatre, I was asked to climb onto a bed, lay on my front and turn my head to the side. The anaesthetist chatted to me briefly and inserted a cannula into my hand and placed an oxygen mask on my face. That is quite honestly the last thing I remember, the next thing I remembered was waking up in recovery.
For me, it felt just like a general anaesthetic, even though it was only sedation. I don’t remember any part of the procedure at all, which actually I find quite a relief. I only remember coming around in recovery. I remember feeling disorientated and a bit sore and chatting a little with the nurse looking after me. Then given a drink, I was sore so they gave me some painkillers and then I was wheeled back up to my bay in outpatients. When I returned I was given something to eat (a sandwich and a drink) and after went to the bathroom, I was allowed to call my husband to come and pick me up. All in all the whole thing was pretty quick. I arrived at 12 pm and was home at about 5 pm if not a little sooner. I was then advised to rest at home for 24 hours.
Did The Spinal Injections Work or Improve My Pain
I’ll be honest, they were not the miracle I was hoping for. They did give me some relief, certainly, for the first day, I felt a bit better. Long term they did ease the pain fractionally, but not considerably. I was still in a lot of debilitating pain, I was still walking with a stick and still taking codeine regularly. But they did help a bit. Before surgery, I was only managing 3 hours of sleep at night, I just couldn’t sleep at all with the pain. The injections did put me in a place where I at least got my sleep back and made the pain just that bit more manageable.
I was asked my by consultant to wait 6 weeks as it can take the injections this time to work. At my 6-week post-injection appointment, my doctor examined me and discussed my pain. Since it was over 4 months since my original MRI, my consultant decided to send me for another one to see what had happened during this time. The plan discussed was that if there was some improvement in the herniation I would have another spinal injection, but if my condition had stayed the same or worsened then we would look at surgery.
I will state I was advised that this is not the experience for many, and many people get significant relief from the injections, but this was just not the case for me. You can also have repeat injections if they do work for you. My consultant did stress to me that they were certainly a better and less invasive treatment approach than surgery.
However, my second MRI showed that my herniation had unfortunately deteriorated and worsened. This meant that the next step for me was surgery, which I will write about this shortly in a follow-up post.