When you are involved in a car accident, your spine can absorb most of the force of the impact. Therefore, it is one of the parts of the body most likely to suffer injuries in an auto collision. A spinal injury from a car accident can cause severe pain in the back and other areas of the body. As a result, you may not be able to go to work or carry on your normal activities. Epidural steroid injections may help manage your pain.
What Types of Spinal Injuries Can Result From a Car Accident?
The impact from a car accident can result in several traumatic spinal injuries for which epidural pain management may be helpful:
- Spondylolisthesis: Slippage of one of the vertebrae (bones in the spine) out of its normal position onto the one underneath it
- Herniated Disk: Rupture of the flexible, rubbery structure found between the vertebrae that allow the gel-like inner layer to leak out
- Spinal Stenosis: Narrowing of the space through which the spinal cord passes through the vertebrae
Pain from injuries such as these may not be confined to the back. The peripheral nerves spread out from the spinal cord to the other areas of the body, such as the arms and legs. Damaged structures from traumatic spine injuries can impinge on the roots of the peripheral nerves where they attach to the spinal cord.
The pressure on the nerve roots that results can cause pain that radiates or is referred to as the extremities. Nerve root impingement can cause other symptoms in the extremities, including weakness, tingling, and numbness.
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The parts of the body affected depend on the level of the spine that the injury occurs. If it affects the neck, the symptoms may be in the arms. A lower back injury may cause symptoms in the hips and legs. For example, the sciatic nerve is a major nerve that splits into two branches at the hips, with one branch running down the back of each leg.
If impingement from a spinal injury affects the sciatic nerve, it can cause painful burning sensations that can extend all the way down the leg. Sciatica is a name for symptoms that result specifically from this kind of impingement. Epidural steroid injections may be effective at relieving pain and symptoms from nerve root impingement, including sciatica.
What Are Epidural Steroid Injections?
The spinal cord is surrounded by a tough membrane called the dura mater. The dura mater is filled with cerebrospinal fluid, and its purpose is to protect the spinal cord. The space between the vertebral wall and the dura mater is the epidural space. Filled with small blood vessels and fat, the epidural space surrounds the nerve roots. This is the area into which epidural steroid injections are given.
Epidural pain management is not the same as epidural nerve blocks. The purpose of nerve blocks is to numb the back and legs completely for a short period of time. Nerve blocks are given as anesthesia to women giving birth or to facilitate surgery involving the low back or legs.
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Epidural steroid injections contain two types of medication: An anesthetic numbing agent, such as bupivacaine or lidocaine, to relieve the pain, and a corticosteroid, such as dexamethasone or triamcinolone, to reduce the inflammation of the irritated nerve roots.
Following the injection, it takes the steroid medication several days to start working to calm the inflammation. The anesthetic medication starts working right away and provides short-term pain relief until the steroid starts to take effect.
Epidural pain management is fairly effective, with 70% to 90% of patients reporting relief of their pain after receiving the injections.
What Are the Goals of Epidural Steroid Injections Following a Car Accident?
While epidural steroid injections are generally effective, their duration is limited. Some patients experience relief for up to a year, while others find that the effects start to taper off between three to six months. Epidural pain management, then, is not intended as a long-term solution. Rather, the goal is to reduce your pain to the point that you can resume your normal activities.
Pain from a spinal cord injury may be so severe that it prevents you from engaging in physical therapy. Epidural pain management can provide relief so that you can start this treatment and work toward long-term recovery from your injury. Epidural steroid injections may delay surgery and possibly prevent it altogether.
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Metro Healthcare Partners offers a pain management clinic in Brooklyn, NY with an award-winning team. Come see us for care after your car accident.