Outcomes and risks

All procedures carry a degree of risk and there is no guarantee that pain procedures will improve pain in all patients.

  • Epidurals, nerve root sleeve injections and neurotomies are the higher-risk procedures.
  • Discomfort during and after the procedure is usually mild.
  • In some cases a small amount of anti–anxiety or pain medication will be administered via a drip by an anaesthetist. There is a very small risk associated with the sedation (your anaesthetist may discuss this with you).
  • After spinal procedures, you may experience temporary numbness, increase in pain, especially after neurotomies, for up to 2 weeks.
  • After an epidural or nerve root sleeve injection a few patients (less than 1%) develop a headache due to a temporary leakage of spinal fluid. This normally settles with rest and pain relief but in some cases may require a second epidural to treat the headache.
  • Patients may experience adverse reactions or allergies to medications (local anaesthetics steroids, phenol), x-ray dye or antiseptics used during the procedure.
  • Other problems may include skin or muscle bruising, blood clots, infection, or in very rare cases, a collapsed lung (with blocks around the chest wall), or a hole in the bladder or bowel (abdominal wall injections).
  • In very rare cases nerve or spinal cord damage may develop after a procedure, leading to temporary or permanent pain, numbness or weakness in arms or legs, or bladder and bowel control problems.
  • Complications may be life-threatening in extremely rare cases.
  • The risk of nerve damage is estimated at 1 in 2000.
  • The risk of paralysis or a life threatening side effect is estimated at 1 in 20 000.


To put the risks into context, the chance of a serious complication is very rare, much less than the risk of having a car accident whilst driving on any given day.

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