Epidural injections for spinal pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis evaluating the "control" injections in randomized controlled trials

Mark C. Bicket, Anita Gupta, Charlie H. Brown Iv, Steven P. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Epidural steroid injection is the most frequently performed pain procedure. This study of epidural steroid "control" injections aimed to determine whether epidural nonsteroid injections constitute a treatment or true placebo in comparison with nonepidural injections for back and neck pain treatment. Methods: This systematic review with direct and indirect meta-analyses used PubMed and EMBASE searches from inception through October 2012 without language restrictions. Study selection included randomized controlled trials with a treatment group receiving epidural injections of corticosteroids or another analgesic and study control groups receiving either an epidural injection devoid of treatment drug or a nonepidural injection. Two reviewers independently extracted data including short-term (up to 12 weeks) pain scores and pain outcomes. All reviewers evaluated studies for eligibility and quality. Results: A total of 3,641 patients from 43 studies were included in this systematic review and meta-analysis. Indirect comparisons suggested epidural nonsteroid were more likely than nonepidural injections to achieve positive outcomes (risk ratio, 2.17; 95% CI, 1.87-2.53) and provide greater pain score reduction (mean difference, -0.15; 95% CI, -0.55 to 0.25). In the very limited direct comparisons, no significant differences were noted between epidural nonsteroid and nonepidural injections for either outcome (risk ratio [95% CI], 1.05 [0.88-1.25]; mean difference [95% CI], 0.22 [-0.50 to 0.94]). Conclusion: Epidural nonsteroid injections may provide improved benefit compared with nonepidural injections on some measures, though few, low-quality studies directly compared controlled treatments, and only short-term outcomes (≤12 weeks) were examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)907-931
Number of pages25
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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