FAQs on Intervertebral Disc Injections

Disc injections are used to treat problems with the intervertebral discs. These discs are quarter-sized cushions that lie between each spinal bone (vertebra) that make up the spinal column. Injecting the disc will improve function, relieve pain, and help the patient avoid surgery.

What is a disc injection?

A disc injection involves injecting medication into the disc to reduce inflammation, ease pain, and stop irritation. Many disc injections help regenerate cells. The problems of the discs are often related to trauma or degenerative conditions.

What causes degenerative disc disease?

Degenerative discs cause back pain in almost half of people age 50 years and older. With age, wear-and-tear, and trauma, the discs lose ability to function as shock absorbers. This occurs from water loss of the gel-like central material, which is called the nucleus. When the bony vertebrae shift position, it can lead to nerve root compression and pain.

What are the different kinds of disc injections?

Currently three kinds of disc injections are being used. These include:

  • Corticosteroid injections – Injecting a potent, long-acting corticosteroid into the disc to reduce inflammation and improve mobility.
  • Stem cell injections – This involves injecting a concentrated solution of stem cells to promote self-healing ability of the body.
  • Disc regenerative therapy (DRT) – This involves injection glucosamine and dextrose into the disc center to stimulate collage growth.

What conditions are treated with disc injections?

Intervertebral disc injections are used to treat:

  • Herniated disc pain
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Intervertebral disc injury
  • Inflammation of discs
  • Disc sprain

How are disc injections given?

You will be positioned face-down on a special procedure table. The nurse will clean the surgical region using an antiseptic solution. The doctor will first numb the skin and deeper tissues over the disc region. Using fluoroscopy (x-ray guidance), the needle is inserted into the disc. After verifying placement, the solution is injected. After removing the needle, a small bandage is applied to the injection site. If stem cells are used, the doctor will first obtain bone marrow from the patient’s hipbone and concentrate/process this in the laboratory. The harvested cells are then injected into the affected disc.

What are the benefits of intervertebral disc injections?

According to current research, disc injections offer pain control, which is superior to surgery or electro-thermal treatments. A disc injection is a minimally invasive procedure with no major complications or side effects. Stem cells offer healing effects at low cost and are not rejected by the body because they come from the patient’s own bone marrow.

What happens after the disc injection?

After the disc injection, a nurse will monitor your condition for 20-30 minutes. We recommend that you take it easy for the rest of the day, and gradually return to usual activities. The number of disc injections needed depends on your current condition, the doctor’s protocol, and if or not you respond to therapy.

What complications, side effects, and risks are associated with disc injections?

As with any minimally invasive procedure, disc injection poses some rare risks. These include bleeding, infection, nerve damage, and blood vessel injury. Few patients report pain at the injection site and tissue soreness, but this is eased with ice packs, which we recommend using for 20 minutes several times each day.

Do disc injections work?

According to a clinical study, corticosteroid disc injections offer significant back pain relief. In another study, stem cell injections were proven useful for degradation of cartilage, prevention of arthritis, and pain relief. One study found that these injections offered a 50% reduction in pain, and the effects lasted for longer than one year.

Resources

Cao P, Jiang L, Zhuang C, Yang Y, et al. (2011). Intradiscal injection therapy for degenerative chronic discogenic low back pain with end plate Modic changes. Spine Journal, 11(2), 100-106. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2010.07.001

Kamei G, Kobayashi T, Ohkawa S, Kongcharoensombat W, et al. (2013). Articular cartilage repair with magnetic mesenchymal stem cells. Am J Sports Medicine.

Pearce RH, Grimmer BJ, & Adams ME (1987). Degeneration and the chemical composition of the human lumbar intervertebral disc. J Orthop Research, 5(2), 198-205.