After trying rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications to relieve your back pain to no avail, your primary care doctor has recommended injections. They make it sound as simple as getting a flu shot. And while injection therapy is much easier and less invasive than spine surgery, it’s not something we can perform at your first appointment.
What Is Injection Therapy?
Injection therapy is a conservative, nonoperative treatment for back pain. There are several different types of injection therapy, but often it involves injecting cortisone into the spine at the source of the pain. Cortisone is a steroid that helps reduce inflammation, and inflammation can be a root cause of spine pain.
Steroid injections do not provide permanent pain relief. Rather, the goal is to alleviate pain and restore mobility long enough to participate in physical therapy and lifestyle changes aimed at reducing inflammation.
Another type of therapy we commonly use at Neurosurgery One to help relieve back and neck pain is called radiofrequency ablation. This minimally invasive technique uses an electric current to heat and cauterize the nerve tissue responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. Radiofrequency ablation can help when other treatments have failed. It’s often used in patients who have facet joint pain in whiplash and complex pain syndromes as well as those who have had prior spine surgery. It is a longer lasting solution than other injections, however, pain may still return.
Why Can’t I Get Injection Therapy Today?
Injection therapy to treat spine pain requires more planning and coordination than the normal vaccine shots most people are familiar with. When we are injecting into the spine, it has to be done in a sterile environment under X-ray guidance, or what we call fluoroscopy. We also typically use sedation to lessen the pain of the injection. Due to these factors, we perform all of our spine injections at a surgery center.
The injection itself only takes about five or 10 minutes, but patients can expect to be at the surgery center for a couple of hours. That includes time for the pre-appointment, going over and signing consents, the procedure itself, and recovery time as the patient wakes up from the sedation.
It usually takes about a week between a patient’s first appointment at Neurosurgery One and the injection, depending on scheduling.
What Does Injection Therapy Feel Like?
Because injection therapy is performed under sedation, patients won’t feel much during the procedure. The injection site may be tender after the anesthetic wears off, but that should subside in a couple of days. Ice can be applied in short intervals to help with discomfort.
When Will I Get Relief After Injection Therapy?
It depends on what type of injection therapy you receive. Patients who have cortisone injections usually start to feel relief within a few days following the procedure. The effects of radiofrequency ablation take longer to realize. You can expect your pain to subside in one to three weeks following radiofrequency ablation.
How Do I Know If Injection Therapy Is Right for Me?
If you have back pain that has not been helped by medication or physical therapy, or if you are unable to participate in physical therapy because of pain or limited mobility, injection therapy might be the next step.