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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.