Epidural steroid injections are the most widely used pain management procedures in the world.1 So why all the criticism? Some would lead you to believe it is the most foolishly used procedure in the world. The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere closer to the middle.
A close analysis of the data, along with countless patient testimonials, tells us that injections of corticosteroids into the space around the spine (known as epidural steroid injections or ESIs) given to the right patient by the right doctor will usually yield a positive result with extremely low complication rates.
I have personally witnessed this, and heard from patient after patient that this procedure got them back to work, let them hike a mountain, or simply allowed them to pick up their kids. In short, it changed their life. Those are the real patient stories that cannot be ignored.
But as a physician, I am also taught to examine the scientific data. What does the data say and how should you, as a patient, make your decisions?
Let’s start with the obvious when it comes to choosing a physician: It’s confusing. There are so many choices, specialties and advertisements that make it difficult to distinguish the good from the bad. Let me provide a very clear idea of who I would send my own mother to see.
1. Credentials - Board certified, fellowship-trained physicians have invested the time to become knowledgeable about pain management and can most reliably provide care.
2. Clinic Model - The very best physician practices employ a comprehensive, integrated model using a multidisciplinary team of physicians and nurses to deliver care: chiropractic, physical therapy, bracing, diagnostics, behavioral health, interventional care and medication management should be incorporated into a unique treatment plan for each patient. If you are not being offered these things, you are not in the right place.