Epidural steroid injections come with life-changing risks
If the surgeon injects too deep or in the wrong place, it can cause paralysis or death
As a Texas medical malpractice lawyer, I have had the opportunity to represent many clients who have been injured by epidural steroid injections. Even this week, I spoke with two new clients who had bad experiences that were caused by a surgeon’s mistake.
What are epidural steroid injections?
Typically, orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons recommend these injections to people who suffer from have neck, lower back, arm, or leg (sciatica) pain. They are intended as temporary fixes to help alleviate pain. In and of themselves, though, they will not fix the underlying problem.
The general goal of epidural steroid injections is to reduce the pain enough to allow the patient to participate in physical therapy, which may help correct the root cause of the pain and avoid surgery.
Epidural steroid injections include two medications.
The first medicine is a corticosteroid, like dexamethasone, that may help relieve intense pain by reducing inflammation and swelling.
The second medicine is an anesthetic, like lidocaine, that numbs the area.
The term “epidural” refers to the location where the medications are injected—the epidural space of the spinal cord, which is between the dura mater protective covering of the spinal cord, and the underlying nerves and vertebras (bones) of the spine.
What are the risks if the surgeon botches the injection?
Every surgery has associated risks of injury that can happen, even with proper care.
Medical negligence comes into play when there are injuries because the doctor botched the injection, or made a mistake during the injection or in the follow-up care. There are many ways that this can happen.
Surgeons must use great care to make the injection near the nerve root next to the spinal cord, without hitting the blood vessels or the spinal cord itself.
If the surgeon makes a mistake and injects into a blood vessel, it can cut off blood flow and damage a part of the spinal cord, causing neurologic issues and even paralysis.
Similarly, if the surgeon makes the injection into the spinal cord itself, it can damage the spinal cord and cause paralysis, other neurologic issues, or even death from respiratory complications. Many people have suffered from a condition called arachnoiditis, after a surgeon botched an epidural steroid injection by inserting the needle too far and puncturing the membrane surrounding the spinal cord. Arachnoiditis is an inflammatory process of that can scar and damage the spinal cord, causing severe pain and neurologic problems.
Just today, a person contacted my office who woke up from an epidural spinal injection in her neck with terrible new medical problems. About four months before the injection, she slipped and fell on her back. She had neck pain and discomfort, but it was not so bad that she could not get back to work. Eventually, her doctor recommended cervical epidural steroid injections.
As soon as she woke up from the first injection, she noticed new problems, including a bad headache and numbness over the left side of her body. It got so bad that she had to go to the emergency room a few days later, and an electromyogram (EMG) study showed that she had nerve damage, radiculopathy in one level of her cervical spine in her neck, with evidence of ongoing loss of nerve supply (denervation).
Painter Law Firm will investigate this case, including having a medical expert review all of the relevant medical records. I believe that her new injuries were caused by medical negligence in the way the injection was done.
Other types of injuries related to negligence during an injection include paralysis, burning sensation, numbness, infections or abscessed, stroke, heart attack, and respiratory issues.
What about the consent form?
Before proceeding with a surgery, Texas law requires the surgeon to go over the risks and benefits of the procedure and have the patient sign a consent form. This is the legal mechanism where a patient gives the surgeon permission to perform the operation.
Just because you sign the consent form for an epidural steroid injection does not mean that the surgeon is excused from any possible complication.
Even so, I cannot even count the number of times I have had injured patients call my office, feeling a bit guilty. Why? Because a family member or friend reminded them that they signed a consent form.
Ignore them. Remember, a patient can never consent to sub-standard medical care or errors.
Painter Law Firm’s experienced Houston medical malpractice lawyers can investigate the care that was provided to you and determine whether your problems were caused by the negligence or mistake of the surgeon. If you have been injured by an epidural steroid injection, call us at 281-580-8800 for a free consultation.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
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Published in the July/August 2018 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine