Back Pain Unrelieved by Steroid Shots

A pinched nerve in the back, or lumbar spinal stenosis, is often treated with epidural injections of steroids when exercise and physical therapy are ineffective. Now a small study suggests that the injections may do more harm than good.

Researchers looked at 69 spine patients who had epidural injections and 207 who did not, all selected from a larger study of spine health. They ranged in age from 53 to 75, and there were no significant differences in the severity of symptoms between the two groups. The study, published last month in the journal Spine, followed the patients for four years, during which some of them went on to have back surgery.

The researchers used various well-established scales to measure symptoms of leg and lower back pain and found significantly less improvement among those who had the injections than among those who did not, even among those who went on to have surgery.

The lead author, Dr. Kris Radcliff, a spine surgeon at the Rothman Institute in Philadelphia, acknowledged that the sample was not large and that there might have been factors the study was unable to control for.

Still, he said: “This was an unexpected finding. We thought those who received the epidurals would have more improvement. Instead, we found that there was less. Whenever you have an unexpected finding like this, you have to approach the results with caution.”

Brought to you by New York Time Health Blog
By NICHOLAS BAKALAR