This is a rare complication that may occur if a small hole is made in the fibrous sac and does not close up after the needle puncture. These small holes are only made in less than 1% of epidural injections and usually heal on their own. The spinal fluid inside can leak out, and when severe, the brain loses the cushioning effect of the fluid, which causes a severe headache when you sit or stand. These types of headaches occur typically about 2-3 days after the procedure and are positional - they come on when you sit or stand and go away when you lie down. If you do develop a spinal headache, it is OK to treat yourself. As long as you do not feel ill and have no fever and the headache goes away when you lay down, you may treat yourself with 24 hours of bed rest with bathroom privileges while drinking plenty of fluids. This almost always works. If it does not, contact the radiologist who performed the procedure or your referring physician. A procedure (called an epidural blood patch) can be performed in the hospital that has a very high success rate in treating spinal headaches.
Dr. Montgomery: In my experience we will occasionally try the epidural steroid injections. That would typically be in a group of patients having more neurologic symptoms, perhaps having radiating pain into their shoulders or arms, or some numbness and tingling. Maybe we're concerned about some nerve root compression. I have not had as much experience with the facet injections . Our pain doctors, our physiatry colleagues, who do a lot of pain management, would try things like nerve root blocks or trigger point injections . I have not seen as much of the facet injections in the cervical spine as I have in the lumbar spine or the low back.
Cortisone injections are extremely safe, but they do still have potential problems. If you are concerned about having a cortisone shot, talk with your doctor. While cortisone is a powerful treatment for many orthopedic conditions, there are usually other options that can also be tried. Many doctors will offer an injection as they are quick, easy, and most often effective. However, your doctor should also be able to offer other treatments for inflammation that may also be effective for those that cannot have, or don't want, a cortisone injection.