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What is a Cervical Epidural?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A cervical epidural is an injection of pain relievers, steroids, anesthesia, or another type of medication into the cervical region of the spine. A patient may need an epidural for one of many reasons. The procedure can be performed as a diagnostic tool in uncovering the exact site and nature of neck pain, or it can be used to treat chronic pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the neck and shoulders. A specially-trained spine doctor oversees the cervical epidural injection procedure to make sure complications do not arise.

A person who suffers a major neck injury or has radiating neck pain can schedule a consultation with a spine specialist to learn about the risks and benefits of cervical epidural in detail. The doctor can take x-rays, perform a physical examination, and ask about symptoms to make a basic diagnosis of the problem. Some conditions such as muscle bruises and sprains do not require epidural procedures. Instead, minor symptoms can usually be relieved with oral painkillers and chiropractic therapy.

Cervical epidural is typically reserved for cases where significant nerve damage around the spine is responsible for pain. Before the procedure, a patient may be given a shot of local anesthetic or an intravenous sedative. A fluorescent contrast dye that shows up on real-time x-rays is injected into the neck. The specialist relies on x-ray feeds to make sure the small, hollow epidural needle hits its mark. Injections are typically mixtures of anti-inflammatory corticosteroids and analgesics.

Immediately following the cervical epidural injection, the patient is brought into a recovery room to give the sedatives time to wear off. The patient is typically allowed to leave the surgical center in one to two hours after a successful procedure. He or she is scheduled for a follow-up visit within the first week to see if problems are improving and given instructions on how to track changes in symptoms on a daily basis.

Many people experience significant pain relief after just one session. The injection prevents discomfort while the nerves and muscles in the neck have time to heal. If some residual pain persists, one to two more cervical epidural injections may be needed at approximately three-week intervals. Recurring or persistent pain may indicate a major nerve problem that will not heal on its own. In such cases, a person may need to undergo a series of surgical procedures to avoid chronic discomfort or permanent disability.

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Discussion Comments
By JaneAir — On Aug 22, 2011

@SZapper - I don't really know anyone who does like hospitals! Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to suck it up and go.

My mom was actually pretty close to having this procedure done a few years ago. She was in a really bad car accident and had serious pain in her neck. She decided to try chiropractic care before the cervical epidural and in her case it ended up being enough.

By SZapper — On Aug 21, 2011

A friend of mine has chronic neck pain. He recently took his doctors advice and scheduled a cervical epidural. I believe he's having the procedure done in about a week or so.

My friend really didn't want to get this done, but he can't deal with the pain anymore. Either way, he was happy when he learned that this is an outpatient procedure. He hates hospitals and if he had to stay the night I don't think he would have consented to the cervical epidural!

By blackDagger — On Aug 21, 2011

Epidurals are wonderful things! They can truly help immensely with severe pain that other relievers don’t really seem to touch.

I know that a few years ago, many people were afraid to use them due to the fact that they are typically injected right into the spine. At one time, many people were absolutely terrified of becoming paralyzed.

In all reality, this is a risk; but it is an extremely remote risk that is hardly ever encountered.

For the people who need them, the relief from pain that the epidural brings certainly far outweighs the risk of paralysis.

A far more realistic problem that sometimes comes with an epidural is the very fast drop of blood pressure that some people experience.

This is probably due to the almost immediate relief of extreme pain. It can be dangerous, but is normally quickly and easily worked around.

By Eviemae — On Aug 20, 2011

My father in law has been a severe diabetic for years, and he has many health complications as a result. Bless his heart, he really just likes to eat and has a hard time slowing down.

Unfortunately, this is the main cause of his diabetes. He actually went on a diet once and lost quite a bit of weight. He was able to come off of his insulin for a while, but then he put the weight back on and then some. So, it was right back to the shots.

Well, regardless, he’s recently had to begin taking these epidurals for severe pain caused by neuropathy. Instead of developing in his lower body, the way most diabetics do, he has developed it higher.

The epidurals make a huge difference in his quality of life, but they are also incredibly expensive. As a result, he has to wait until he just can’t bear the pain anymore before he consents to one.

Apparently, back pain relief is only available at a very high price.

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