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Drugs, Medications, and Spinal Injections for Spinal Stenosis

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Unless your symptoms are very serious, your physician will probably choose to start out your treatment with medication.

pills, drugs

Over-the-counter Medications for Spinal Stenosis

You can probably agree with this: The main goal is to relieve your pain and inflammation. Pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) can control pain, but don't have any effect on inflammation.

If you want to fight both your pain and inflammation, you may consider non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These products relieve pain and also reduce inflammation and swelling. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin), indomethacin, and naproxen.

Prescription Medications that May Relieve Your Pain

If you've taken over-the-counter medications but are still experiencing spinal stenosis pain, your doctor may recommend prescription medications to combat your pain. Prescription-strength NSAIDs are a common prescription medication used to control spinal stenosis pain.

More In-depth Articles on Spinal Stenosis Treatments

Spinal Injections: A Pain Management Option for Spinal Stenosis

If you have a severe case of spinal stenosis, a pain management specialist may inject a corticosteroid medication into the spinal fluid around your spinal cord and nerve roots. This may be referred to as an epidural steroid injection. This injection targets the epidural space, which is the space surrounding the membrane that covers the spinal cord and nerve roots. Nerves travel through the epidural space to the neck, shoulders, arms, and legs. If a nerve root is inflamed in the epidural space, you can have pain.

The epidural injection may provide total and permanent relief—or it may reduce your pain for several weeks to several months.

Corticosteroids can be especially helpful in treating pain that radiates down the back of your leg. Many people report almost immediate relief from the injections. But corticosteroids can have significant side effects. These are rare, but you should know and discuss the risks with your doctor.

Potential side effects of corticosteroids include:

  • increased pain where you had the injection
  • fever after you get the injection (if it's above 101º for more than 24 hours, you should let your doctor know)
  • anxiety
  • weight gain
  • trouble sleeping
  • high blood sugar (more so for people with diabetes)
  • high blood pressure
  • decreased ability to fight infection (more so for people who already have an infection)
  • stomach ulcers
  • damage to the bones in your large joints, like your hips (that's called avascular necrosis)
  • cataracts

After an epidural injection, call your doctor immediately if you:

  • have trouble controlling your bladder and/or bowels
  • lose feeling and/or function in your arms or legs
  • have a terribly painful headache when you sit up or stand, and the only way to make it feel better is to lay down
  • have extreme pain that doesn't go away when you try typical pain-fighting measures (eg, over-the-counter medications)

Because of these potential serious side effects, most doctors limit the number of injections a patient receives. The actual number of injections a patient receives is determined by many factors. Be sure to talk through this issue with your doctor.

Updated on: 01/23/13
Jason M. Highsmith, MD
This article was reviewed by Jason M. Highsmith, MD.
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