BACKGROUND: Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is by far the most common complication of herpes zoster (HZ) and one of the most intractable pain disorders. Since PHN is seen most often in the elderly, the number of patients with this disorder is expected to increase in our ageing society. PHN may last for months to years and has a high impact on the quality of life. The results of PHN treatment are rather disappointing. Epidural injection of local anaesthetics and steroids in the acute phase of HZ is a promising therapy for the prevention of PHN. Since randomised trials on the effectiveness of this intervention are lacking, the PINE (Prevention by epidural Injection of postherpetic Neuralgia in the Elderly) study was set up. The PINE study compares the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a single epidural injection of local anaesthetics and steroids during the acute phase of HZ with that of care-as-usual (i.e. antivirals and analgesics) in preventing PHN in elderly patients. METHODS / DESIGN: The PINE study is an open, multicenter clinical trial in which 550 elderly (age >/= 50 yr.) patients who consult their general practitioner in the acute phase of HZ (rash < 7 days) are randomised to one of the treatment groups. The primary clinical endpoint is the presence of HZ-related pain one month after the onset of the rash. Secondary endpoints include duration and severity of pain, re-interventions aiming to treat the existing pain, side effects, quality of life, and cost-effectiveness. CONCLUSION: The PINE study is aimed to quantify the (cost-) effectiveness of a single epidural injection during the acute phase of HZ on the prevention of PHN.