The ultimate answer to this question is no; epidural steroid injections don’t simply mask pain. However, an explanation of the benefits as well as limitations of these injections will assist you in better understanding them.
Epidural steroid injections have been a standard treatment for short-term pain relief for decades, providing care for radiculopathy pain (pinched nerves) since the 1950s. Relief for spinal stenosis as well as herniated discs and sciatica are also addressed by these injections.
Steroid injections, which are potent anti-inflammatory medications, can decrease the inflammation around the discs and nerves, which in turn alleviates pain and pressure enough to allow the patient to return to more regular exercise and activity.
The medication is injected into the epidural space, which refers to the area around the spinal cord (not in it). When a nerve is being pinched, that pinching occurs in the epidural space or close to it, so the injection of the steroid goes into this area. In a sense, steroid injections both help to relieve pain and simultaneously contribute to the healing of the problem by allowing you to be pain-free while you recover.
In this treatment, only a small dose of a steroid is injected specifically where it needs to be. Side effects are usually minimal and self-limiting. And while these injections are only intended for temporary pain relief, steroid injections coupled with therapeutic exercise may allow patients to postpone or even avoid surgery altogether.
Multiple studies over the past few decades have shown the results of these injections to be between 75% and 90% of good to excellent, with most patients being able to avoid surgery. Thus, while injections don’t necessarily “cure” the problem, they are a valuable conservative and non-operative step that a patient can take before deciding to undergo any type of surgery.
In cases where chronic back pain must be managed, like other chronic conditions—patients should be instructed on realistic expectations of what epidural injections can do.
If you’re suffering from back pain that hasn’t improved using other conservative methods, steroid injections may be a viable option for you. Consult an orthopedic physician about the possible benefits of these injections in your particular case. and find out how long you can expect any relief to last.