Driving After Spinal Injections Can Prove Dangerous
What if a deer suddenly jumped in front of your car? Unless you want a deer in your front seat, your brain better quickly send a signal to your foot to slam on the brakes. But, if you just had an epidural, this reaction may be dangerously delayed.
Recently, a group of researchers tested driver reaction times before and after epidural steroid injections. These shots (injections) into the spine bathe the nerve in soothing chemicals like steroids which control inflammation. According to this study, the driver reaction time was delayed by upwards of 80 milliseconds immediately following the injection. When milliseconds count and your life is on the line, this research finding is concerning. Furthermore, the delayed reaction times after an epidural injection persisted for nearly two weeks in some people. This new information is a bit alarming considering that thousands of people receive epidurals every day. These same people may be driving around unaware that their ability to slam on the brakes is a bit slower than usual. That’s a little scary to think about
Based on these results, here are the new recommendations. After an epidural, you should avoid difficult driving conditions like bad weather, bad traffic or the night time. You should follow these precautions for the first two weeks following this procedure.
Driving safety should be on the mind of anyone who has had any change in his or her medical condition. Many types of procedures can affect reaction times. After hip and knee replacement surgery, driving can be impaired for up to eight weeks. Medications can slow the brain and injections like epidurals can slow the signals from the brain. Even some medical problems like diabetes can lead to impaired driving by damaging nerves. Since driving safely requires the ability to stop rapidly in an emergency, all of the muscles, nerves, and joints need to be in good working condition.
But when bad things happen to the body, injury and pain can bring someone to the specialist for spinal epidurals. After three epidurals nine years ago, I had no idea that those injections impaired my reaction times enough to endanger me while driving. If I had known, I probably would have slowed down a bit and been more cautious. I guess this is a lesson for all of us: best to be on the cautious side of driving at all times because you never know when your driving skills are a little less than perfect. This alertness is especially important after you have had an epidural and Bambi just happens to scamper into your path.
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.