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Neck and Back Steroid Injections Can Sometimes Lead to Serious Injury With Little Potential Benefit

A panel of medical experts advised the FDA that steroid injections for neck and back pain should not carry the toughest federal warning, the so-called contraindication label, which signals to doctors that the risks outweigh any possible benefits. However, risks were decided to sometimes outweigh the benefits for certain types of injections were the injection was close to a cluster of small important arteries in the neck. Certain steroids that have a granular texture can also block arteries. These risky procedures account for only a small percentage of injections given.

Corticosteroids are strong anti-inflammatory medicines. Relieving swelling and inflammation can take pressure off nerves and soft tissues, which can relieve pain. One million or more Americans get epidural steroid injections each year.

There are rare cases where such injections can cause paralysis and death. As early as 2007, a survey of doctors in the journal Spine uncovered 78 cases of patients who received steroid injections in the neck suffering serious injuries, including 13 deaths. In other cases, the injections have been linked to loss of vision or paralysis in patients. In other parts of the world-New Zealand, for example-tougher restrictions on the use of corticosteroids in the neck and back are already on labels.

There are doctors who believe that all epidural steroid injections should be banned as there was little evidence that they reduce pain. Many pain management specialists disagree.

We represented a client who received a steroid injection in her neck to relieve her neck pain from spinal compression. The injection struck an artery and she leaked blood into her spinal canal causing severe pain, and serious risk of paralysis or death. The doctor testified that the risk of this happening is 1 in 500,000. She required emergency neck surgery.

Patients should be informed of the small but severe risks of epidural steroid injections in the neck.

Weisfuse & Weisfuse LLP represents victims of medical malpractice. Feel free to contact us without charge at (212) 983-3000 or at para@weisfuse.com.

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