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Musculoskeletal radiologists at Mass General Imaging perform image-guided spine injections in the Yawkey Building on Mass General's main campus in Boston.
Musculoskeletal radiologists are specially trained doctors who specialize in using imaging to diagnose and treat problems related to bones, joints and soft tissue. They are assisted by a technologist who helps run the equipment and get the images.
What should I expect BEFORE a spine injection?
Before your appointment, we will call you to screen you for anything that may interfere with the procedure, such as blood thinners, allergies to X-ray contrast, diabetes, and any current infections.
Please plan to bring the most recent MRI or CT scans of your spine to the procedure, as well as a list of current medications and doses you are taking. If your symptoms are mild, do not take pain medications before the procedure. Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your appointment.
What should I expect DURING a spine injection?
The procedure takes about 20 minutes. Depending on the procedure, you will either lie on your stomach or back and must be able to turn your head. Your skin will be cleaned with an antiseptic soap, and then numbed with a local anesthetic. Using fluoroscopy (continuous X-ray) or ultrasound, the radiologist will pass a needle into the area of your back that is believed to be causing your pain. A very small amount of contrast dye will be injected to confirm correct needle position, and then the medications will be injected. During the injection, you may feel mild pressure or tingling. These sensations are expected and will only last several seconds. Please inform the radiologist if you feel these sensations, as it will help to diagnose the exact source of your pain. Two different medications are injected around the targeted area. A short-acting anesthetic agent is injected for diagnostic information. If your pain is relieved immediately following the procedure, it will come back after the anesthetic agent wears off in about 2 to 3 hours, depending on the specific area being treated. An anti-inflammatory steroid is injected for longer-lasting pain relief, but it will not begin working for 1 to 2 days. The steroid reaches maximum effectiveness in 5 to 7 days. The duration of relief depends on many factors, including the severity and reversibility of your condition.
What should I expect AFTER a spine injection?
You will receive discharge instructions and a pain diary to record the changes in your symptoms.Most people can leave the hospital right away. For your safety, someone should drive you home after the procedure. If you must drive, we may need to monitor you for 30 to 60 minutes before you can leave. You should take it easy for the rest of the day. For 5 to 7 days, avoid any heavy lifting or strenuous activities. If you are unsure of any activities, check with your doctor.
What risks are associated with spine injections?
Complications are infrequent but possible. The needle could cause local bleeding or infection. Rare complications include allergic reaction to the contrast or anesthetic. If the anesthetic spreads to nearby nerves, you may develop temporary arm or leg weakness or numbness. Pain may be temporarily worsened after the procedure.
Department of Radiology Chairman Emeritus James H. Thrall, MD, explains how the ability to see deep inside the body has driven the development of minimally invasive methods of treatment—a trend in which Mass General Imaging has played a key role.
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