Epidural refers to the space around nerves in the spine, called the epidural space. An epidural injection is the administration of medication into this space. During labor, women may get an epidural injection of anesthetic medication to numb the nerves to decrease pain during childbirth. Regarding managing pain, epidural injections involve the administration of an anti-inflammatory medication (steroids) into the epidural space to reduce inflammation around a nerve caused by compression or irritation to the nerve, resulting in reduction of the pain associated with inflammation and swelling. There is an epidural space around all the nerves in the spine, therefore, an epidural injection can be performed anywhere along the spine where it is determined that a nerve is inflamed. These are performed using fluoroscopy, a specific type of x-ray machine, to help accurately locate the epidural space at the level where the inflammation is determined to be located. Depending on the anatomy of your spine or prior spine surgery, there are different techniques used to inject and administer the medication.
Spinal nerves can become inflamed due to compression on a nerve from a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, repetitive motion, strenuous activity, or trauma. Typically, an inflamed spinal nerve will cause pain, numbness, tingling, and/or burning down the path of the nerve into an arm or leg. Muscle weakness may be involved as well. Therefore, epidural steroid injections are used to reduce these symptoms. They are not intended to treat or fix the underlying cause of the inflammation but are helpful in reducing or, at times, completely alleviating pain to allow you to better tolerate other treatments that can address the underlying cause of the pain.