Study design: Intrinsic cervical spinal cord damage represents the serious and permanent complications that can occur if cervical epidural steroid injections are administered while the patient is sedated. Two case reports are presented.
Objectives: To draw attention to the dangerous consequences that can arise from sedating a patient before administering a cervical epidural steroid injection.
Summary of background data: Reported complications of cervical epidural steroid injections have been minor and infrequent. No reports of intrinsic cervical cord damage could be found in a comprehensive English language literature search.
Methods: Two case reports of permanent intrinsic cervical cord damage in patients who had been administered cervical epidural steroid injections while under intravenous sedation are presented. Magnetic resonance imaging was performed before and after the administration of cervical epidural steroid injections. Each patient had herniated nucleus pulposus before they received cervical epidural steroid injections and intrinsic cord damage on postinjection magnetic resonance images.
Results: Both patients developed increased pain and neurologic symptoms within 24 hours of injection. To date, these symptoms appear to be permanent. However, Patient 1 had pain relief in her right arm and shoulder after undergoing a microdiscectomy, but pain was still persistent in her left leg, and she has developed a positive Lhermitte's sign.
Conclusion: These case reports indicate fluoroscopic guidance will not insure or prevent intrathecal perforation or spinal cord penetration during the administration of cervical epidural steroid injections. In addition, although intravenous sedations during cervical epidural steroid injections have been used numerous times without reported complications, it appears intravenous sedation in these two cases resulted in the inability of the patient to experience the expected pain and paresthesias at the time of spinal cord irritation. Therefore, the authors conclude that the patient should be fully awake during the administration of cervical epidural steroid injections, with only local anesthetic in the skin used for analgesia.