If pain caused by degenerative disc disease persists despite treatment with pain medication taken by mouth and physical therapy, doctors at NYU Langone may recommend an injection of pain medication. While these therapeutic injections don’t correct structural damage in the spine, they may relieve pain for weeks or months.
Doctors use an X-ray of the spine to guide the location of the injection. This ensures that they target the exact disc space or joint affected by degenerative disc disease. Injections may take 15 minutes to an hour, and most people can go home immediately afterward.
The injected medication typically includes a small amount of anesthesia mixed with corticosteroids. The anesthesia relieves pain immediately and may help doctors diagnose the precise location of a disc injury. If you feel better right away, this confirms that the medication is injected into the correct spot.
The steroids begin to work after two or three days. In the interim, back or neck pain may return. This is typical.
Our doctors limit people with degenerative disc disease to three injections in one year. If done more often, injections may have side effects, including infection or discoloration of the skin near the injection site.
In this procedure, doctors inject corticosteroids into the epidural space, the fluid-filled area surrounding the spinal cord. Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medications, which reduce inflammation around nerves and the spinal cord. An epidural injection is especially helpful if degenerative disc disease results in a herniated disc or if bone growths develop and press painfully on nerve roots or the spinal cord.
If degenerative disc disease results in a pinched nerve—for example, as a result of a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, the narrowing of the spinal canal—doctors may inject medication directly into the affected nerve or nerve root. This may reduce inflammation and “block” pain signals. Peripheral nerve blocks are injected into the nerves surrounding the injured area of the spine and nerve root blocks are injected into the nerve root that’s compressed in the spinal canal.
Doctors may recommend trigger point injections if you have neck or back pain in the muscles near an injured disc. For someone with degenerative disc disease, this may occur as a result of poor posture or an abnormal body position a person may adopt as the result of chronic discomfort in the spine.
Often, contorting the body in unusual ways can remove pressure from the spinal canal, alleviating pain caused by a pinched nerve. However, if these unusual positions become habitual, the surrounding muscles strain to support the body and may start to cramp or become painful. Injecting an anesthetic into the muscle can help it relax and relieve pain.
Injecting corticosteroids into the joints of the spine—called facet joints—relieves inflammation and soothes irritated bones. Doctors may recommend injections in one or more joints along the spine, depending on your symptoms and diagnosis. If a person has osteoarthritis, joint damage due to cartilage erosion may cause inflammation, and this type of injection may alleviate pain.
Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.