A thoracic epidural steroid injection is a shot that temporarily helps ease pain in your thoracic region. That’s the upper to middle part of your back. Medicine is injected into an area around your spinal cord. This area is known as the epidural space.
Your spinal cord is a delicate bundle of nerves that runs from your brain to your lower back. The nerves of the spinal cord allow your brain to communicate with the rest of your body. The epidural space surrounds the spinal cord. The spine or backbone is the hard structure composed of a column of many small bones (vertebrae). The bones of the spinal column help protect your spinal cord from injury. Between these bones are intervertebral discs. These discs cushion the vertebrae. They also give your backbone flexibility.
Sometimes, nerves leaving the spinal cord can become pinched or inflamed. That might happen, for example, if part of an intervertebral disc presses into the space of the spinal cord and nerves. You may then feel pain in your back.
A thoracic epidural is a fairly safe procedure. But it does carry some risks. To help reduce these problems, healthcare providers usually use X-rays to guide them. Possible risks include:
There is also a chance that the shot won’t ease your pain.
Your own risks may differ. They depend on your age, your other medical conditions, and the reason for the shot. It might not make sense for you if you have certain health conditions. These include an infection, a bleeding disorder, or uncontrolled high blood pressure. Talk with your healthcare provider about your specific risks.
After the procedure, you typically will need to wait a short while before going home. Your healthcare provider can then watch for any reactions to the shot. You should be able to go back home within the hour. You may need to rest for the remainder of the day. But you should be able to resume your normal activities the next day. If you took medicine to help you relax, you shouldn’t drive or make any important decisions for at least 24 hours.
You may not notice any improvement right after your shot. Some people even feel a little worse afterward. The shot may take as much as a week or so before it starts to ease the pain. Any benefit may last for a few months. If the injection controls your pain while your back is slowly healing on its own, the pain may not return at all.
You might feel some numbness in your arms. But that should go away within a few hours. Let your healthcare provider know if you have any side effects. These may include warmth and redness at the injection site or continued numbness. Your healthcare provider may give you more directions about what to do after your injection.
After the procedure, you will need to see your healthcare provider. You may need follow-up imaging or blood tests. Your healthcare provider can also help with making an ongoing treatment plan for your condition. Though a thoracic epidural injection can help treat pain, it usually doesn’t address the problem causing the back pain. You may need other treatments for your pain, like back exercises. You may also need more injections.
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