Outcomes and risks

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

In rare cases, pain may actually worsen for longer periods of time after a procedure.

  • Epidurals, nerve root sleeve injections and neurotomies are the higher-risk procedures for nerve injury.
  • Temporary discomfort during and after the procedure is not uncommon and 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.

Your doctor will discuss with you the expected outcomes and risks of your procedure.

Please discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you have about your procedure.

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