Understanding Spinal Injections

Many people are confused about spinal injections and worry understandably about what they are for, what the complications might be, and how long they will last. To better address these problems, it is important to know what the procedure is and what its aim is.

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Many procedures will inject local anaesthetics, steroid, or other medications. Some are not actually injections at all, but use pulsed electricity or high temperature probes to modulate or affect nerve function. The sort of therapy the might be best for you should be discussed with your spinal pain specialist. Primarily though, it is important to understand the purpose of your procedure and whether it is diagnostic or therapeutic.

Diagnostic Injections: The first approach to any spine or pain problem is to try to identify a diagnosis, which is likely to involve a clinical examination and imaging, such as X-rays or MRI. Sometimes, despite all of this, it is not possible to make a clear diagnosis and procedures such as injections can be used to help clarify exactly what the problem might be, or more clearly define where the tender area may originate from. Diagnostic injections are not designed to last for long periods, although sometimes they can. They are used to identify whether an improvement is possible, if pain can be adapted or a reversible effect can be generated. Examples of diagnostic injections include median branch blocks, peripheral nerve blocks and trigger point injections.

Therapeutic Injections: Where a diagnosis is likely or clear, therapeutic injections aim to improve symptoms, and reduce pain in order to allow rehabilitation, reduce medication or avoid surgery. The key to addressing many spinal issues is to maintain and increase flexibility and often pain is a barrier to this. Where injuries such as slipped discs (disc herniation) lead to problems like sciatica, therapeutic injections may allow symptoms to be managed well without surgery while the disc heals. These sort of procedures are intended to last long periods, but are rarely a cure. Often having a procedure that improves quality of life and can be repeated as required, is a preferred option. Examples of therapeutic injuries include steroid epidurals, dorsal root ganglion therapy, and radio frequency denervation.

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