Are Epidural Shots for Back Pain Worth the Risk?

First do no harm.

The risks of epidural shots for pain relief were well known even before the current outbreak of meningitis, which has infected 197 people and killed 15. This outbreak is tied to fungus in a steroid injection drug manufactured by a company based in Massachusetts. Since the 1990’s steroid injections for back pain have skyrocketed.

The original story about this outbreak told the story of a judge who died after seeking pain relief treatment from his doctor for severe neck pain after a car accident.  All I could think of was how different the outcome might have been had this gentleman had a doctor who understood that steroid injections have no long term positive affect on the loss of muscle function that occurs involuntarily in the nervous system due to something like a car accident. This latest disaster only underscores why Somatic Education should be part of medical school curriculum.

The people I work with are those who fit the description of having “tried everything and experienced only short term relief.” They’ve done:

  • epidural shots
  • surgery
  • acupuncture
  • massage therapy
  • stretching
  • physical therapy

Somatic Education can help prevent the need for steroid injections.

In the first article cited in this post, the following paragraph was the most stunning:

Patients most likely assumed there was strong evidence that the procedure itself works. But the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of medical experts, reviewed the data last year and found there was “no strong evidence for or against” the injections. Patients exposed to the drug in the current outbreak may have risked their health or even their lives for an elusive goal.

I have worked with scores of clients who have come to me having had steroid injections. Like those patients in the above quote, they, too, trusted that their doctors were giving them the best possible advice and a procedure that would help. Most explained that while the injections gave them short term relief, the injections didn’t solve the problem.

What they learned in their private clinical sessions of Hanna Somatic (Clinical Somatic) Education was simple:

  • The root cause of most chronic muscle pain occurs due to loss of somatic awareness and muscle function.
  • Our brain responds to accidents, injuries, surgeries, emotional stress, and on-going repetitive stresses by contracting muscles, which causes us to change the way we move.
  • This is an internal process of muscular stress adaptation can only be experienced by the individual. It cannot be diagnosed through typical medical diagnostics.
  • Muscular adaptation is learned¬†and it can be un-learned. Anyone can learn to relieve their pain by learning to learning to restore muscle function.

Here’s an exercise to do for yourself: if you are experiencing muscle pain, unrelated¬† to a pathology or disease – be it hip joint, back, neck, shoulder, arm/wrist, knee or foot pain – think back into your own “stress history” and ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you ever had an accident, injury or surgery that caused you to to change the way you move, even for a short span of time?
  • Have you ever had a sudden, traumatic accident (car, fall down the stairs, slip on the ice, sports) that caused you to “cringe,” and immobilize a joint or body part until it was healed?
  • Do you sit all day at a computer and hold your body rigidly?
  • Do you over-train in your workout and not take time to relax your muscles?
  • Are you suffering from emotional stress that is causing you to tighten your muscles and breathe shallowly?

There are all things to consider when looking at muscle pain (and there is more than one way to relieve it; because I am a Somatic Educator, this is perspective from which I write). If you plan to go to your doctor due to back, neck/shoulder, hip, knee or foot pain, ask him or her these questions:

  • Do you think this problem could be muscular?
  • Do you think my muscles could be causing my joints to compress?
  • How can I best learn to relax my muscles for the long term?
  • Do you think this problem could be caused by compensation in my movement?

These questions can engage the doctor in a new kind of conversation. Many doctors agree that movement is often the best medicine, yet they also understand that many patients don’t want to take responsibility for their own health. People often want instant results. Expanding our approach to chronic muscle pain and dysfunction requires that everyone participate – patients with both their own insight into their movement habits and willingness to take the time required to care for themselves, and doctors with a willingness to think outside the medical box and augment their learning.

To learn to relieve your muscle pain on your own, at home, purchase my easy-to-follow instructional DVDs. To make an appointment with Martha, speak with her by phone, or have a Skype video session, go here.

3 thoughts on “Are Epidural Shots for Back Pain Worth the Risk?

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