Cookies on the Bupa website

We use cookies to help us understand ease of use and relevance of content. This ensures that we can give you the best experience on our website. If you continue, we'll assume that you are happy to receive cookies for this purpose. Find out more about cookies

Continue

Navigation

Epidural injections for lower back and leg pain

Epidural injections into your spine can sometimes provide short-term relief from pain in your lower back and legs, which is known as radicular pain.

If you’re considering having an epidural injection, it's important to make a decision that’s right for you. This information is designed to help you decide whether to have an epidural injection or not.

An image showing a section of the

Details

  • What are epidural injections? What are epidural injections?

    An epidural is an injection that contains a steroid dissolved in a local anaesthetic. It's injected into a gap called the epidural space, which surrounds your spinal cord. The local anaesthetic will block the pain temporarily, while the steroid will reduce swelling and inflammation.

    The injections can be given at different points in your back. One in the base of your spine is called a caudal epidural whereas one in your lower back is called a lumbar epidural. Where you have an epidural injection will depend on what you're having it for.

    Bupa On Demand

    Want to talk to a Bupa consultant? We’ll aim to get you seen the next day. Prices from £250.

  • Why would I have an epidural injection? Why would I have an epidural injection?

    Epidural injections can treat pain in your lower back and legs, which is known as radicular pain. Your doctor will usually suggest you try other treatments before offering you an epidural injection. These alternatives may include exercise, physiotherapy and painkillers, for example.

    It isn't known for sure how well epidural injections work for back and leg pain, as studies have come up with inconsistent results. However, there's some research to suggest they can sometimes help to manage pain in your back and legs, caused by conditions, such as:

    • a slipped disc (herniated disc) – this is when one of the discs in your spine bulges
    • sciatica – this is when a nerve in your spine becomes compressed or irritated
    • spinal stenosis – this occurs when the space around your spinal cord narrows, putting pressure on your spinal cord

    You will usually have epidural injections as part of a wider treatment plan that includes other therapies such as exercises and rehabilitation. It’s important to realise that, like other treatments for these conditions, not everyone gets pain relief from an epidural injection. And if you do, it will only be temporary. However, if an epidural injection does help to relieve your pain, it may allow you to do physiotherapy or other rehabilitation. This may then improve your symptoms in the long term.

    Exercises for low back pain by Bupa UK

    Epidural injections aren't a suitable treatment for everybody. For example, if you have a bleeding disorder or certain allergies, you shouldn't have one. If your back is sore or stiff but your doctor can't find a particular cause for the pain, they won't offer you an epidural injection. It's unlikely to help. Ask your doctor if an epidural injection is an option for you.

    Click on the image to open our infographic of exercises for low back pain.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • What happens during an epidural injection? What happens during an epidural injection?

    You will usually have an epidural injection in hospital. You can have the injection and go home the same day – you won't need to stay overnight. A specialist doctor (sometimes an anaesthetist) will give you the epidural injection.

    Your doctor may give you a local anaesthetic to numb any pain while you're having it done. They may offer you sedation too, to help you relax. Your doctor will need to take X-rays CT or ultrasound scans to help them guide the needle to the right spot. They may need to inject a type of dye called contrast media to help highlight where the needle needs to go.

    You will need to lie on your tummy or your side while you have the procedure. It will only take a few minutes to give you the epidural injection but it may take longer to have imaging such as X-rays.

  • What to expect after receiving an epidural injection What to expect after receiving an epidural injection

    After you have had an epidural injection, you will need to stay sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes. Your legs may feel numb or tingly at first because of the local anaesthetic, but this will go away. Don't drive yourself home – ask your family or a friend to go with you to hospital. Take it easy for the rest of the day when you get home.

    Epidural injections don't work for everyone and even if it does work, it can take several days for you to feel the effect. Your pain may even get worse before it starts to get better from the epidural. It's a good idea to keep a pain diary as this can help your doctor to see whether or not the injection has worked for you.

  • Bupa On Demand

    You can receive private treatment, scans and consultations on a pay-as-you go basis with Bupa On Demand. Find out more today.

  • Pros and cons Pros and cons

    This information is intended to help you understand the advantages and disadvantages of radiofrequency denervation. Think about how important each particular issue is to you. You and your doctor can work together to make a decision that's right for you. Your decision will be based on your doctor’s expert opinion and your personal values and preferences.

    Pros

    • An epidural injection may reduce your pain for a short time. This can improve your quality of life and make it easier to get about and get on with your normal daily activities in the short term.
    • If the epidural injection helps to reduce your pain, you may find it easier to do physiotherapy or other rehabilitation. This may help to improve your back problem in the long term.

    Cons

    • You might not get any pain relief from epidural injections.
    • The pain relief you may get from an epidural injection will probably last only between three months and a year. It isn't a cure for your pain.
    • There are possible risks and complications linked to epidural injections, which include headaches, bleeding, an infection, an allergic reaction and nerve damage. Although you're unlikely to get any of these, it’s important to be aware of them when deciding whether or not to have the injection.

    Making your choice about epidural injections

    Different things are important to different people. Have a think about how important each of the issues above is to you in making your decision whether to have epidural injection or not. Next, together with your doctor, do the following.

    • Review the list of pros and cons. 
    • Rank each of them from zero to five, with five being the most important to you. 
    • Add up the total value for the pros and cons – the highest total value should indicate what’s important to you.

    Your doctor can give you advice and help you choose the right treatment for you.

  • Questions to ask your doctor Questions to ask your doctor

    Have a think about any questions you would like to ask your doctor before you decide whether to have an epidural spinal injection or not. Here are some example questions you might like to ask.

    • What else can I do to help relieve my pain?
    • Should I try other treatments first before having an epidural?
    • What should I expect to happen after I’ve had my epidural injection?
    • Will I be able to exercise after the injection? Are there any types of exercise that it's best not to do?
    • Should I have physiotherapy or other some rehabilitation after having my epidural injection?
    • How can I tell if my epidural injection has worked?
  • Resources Resources

    Sources

    • Spinal stenosis. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 9 October 2014
    • Low back pain and sciatica. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 22 December 2014
    • Epidural injections. Radiological Society of North America. www.radiologyinfo.org, published 14 August 2013
    • Musculoskeletal lower back pain. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 3 October 2014
    • Discogenic low back pain. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 19 November 2014
    • Epidural corticosteroid injections in the management of sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. University of York Centre for Reviews and Dissemination. www.crd.york.ac.uk, published 16 November 2012
    • Adult acute and subacute low back pain. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. www.icsi.org, published November 2012
    • Low back pain: early management of persistent non-specific low back pain. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), May 2009. www.nice.org.uk
    • Recommendations for good practice in the use of epidural injection for the management of pain of spinal origin in adults. Royal College of Anaesthetists. www.rcoa.ac.uk, published April 2011
    • Epidurals and back pain. Back Care. www.backcare.org.uk, published March 2010
    • Epidural steroid injections. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 9 July 2015
    • Pain and pain relief. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/patientplus, reviewed 16 January 2015
    • Risks associated with your anaesthetic. Section 11: nerve damage associated with a spinal or epidural injection. Royal College of Anaesthetists. www.rcoa.ac.uk, published 2013
  • Has our information helped you? Tell us what you think about this page

    We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.

    Let us know what you think using our short feedback form
    Ask us a question
  • Related information Related information

  • Author information Author information

    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, August 2015.

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.

  • Information Standard

    We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.

    Information standard logo
  • HONcode

    This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information:
    verify here.

    This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

What our readers say about us

But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.

Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.

It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.

Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.

Meet the team

Nick Ridgman

Nick Ridgman
Head of Health Content







  • Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
  • Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
  • Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor, Content Library
  • Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor, Insights
  • Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
  • Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant

Our core principles

All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.

An image showing or editorial principals

                  Click to open full-size image

The ‘3Rs’ encompass everything we believe good health information should be. From tweets to in-depth reports, videos to quizzes, every piece of content we produce has these as its foundation.

Readable

In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.

Reliable

We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.

Relevant

We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.

Our accreditation

Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.

  • The Information Standard certification scheme

    You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.

    It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.

    Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.

  • British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards

    We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.

Contact us

If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: healthinfo@bupa.com. Or you can write to us:

Health Content Team
Bupa House
15-19 Bloomsbury Way
London
WC1A 2BA

Find out more Close

Legal disclaimer

This information was published by Bupa's Health Content Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

The information contained on this page and in any third party websites referred to on this page is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor is it intended to be for medical diagnosis or treatment. Third party websites are not owned or controlled by Bupa and any individual may be able to access and post messages on them. Bupa is not responsible for the content or availability of these third party websites. We do not accept advertising on this page.

For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the 'About our health information' section.

ˆ We may record or monitor our calls.