Background: The aim of this study was to assess if transforaminal steroid injections applied to cohort of patients waiting for cervical disc surgery, reduce the pain of cervical radiculopathy and hence reduce the need for surgical intervention. Cervical radiculopathy due to cervical disc herniation or spondylosis is a common indication for cervical disc surgery. Surgery is however not always successful, and is not done without risk of complications. Transforaminal injection of steroids has gained popularity due to the rationale that inflammation of the spinal nerve roots causes radicular pain, and therefore steroids placed locally should relieve symptoms.
Methods: During a 12-month period, 21 secondary referral patients with unilateral cervical radiculopathy entered the study. Cervical disc herniation or spondylosis affecting the corresponding nerve root was demonstrated by appropriate investigation (MRI or myelography). The patients then received 2 transforaminal steroid injections, at 2 weeks interval, while waiting for operative treatment. The pain intensity (VAS), Odom's criteria and operative indications were registered at 6 weeks and 4 months.
Findings: After receiving injection treatment 5 of the 21 patients decided to cancel the operation due to clinical improvement. A statistically significant reduction (0.02) in radicular pain score was simultaneously measured. This corresponds well with the reduction in operative requirements since radicular pain is the main indication for operative treatment. The responders experienced a long-lasting effect. Those responding positively however improved neck pain to the same extent as radicular pain, and patients with cervical spondylosis responded as positively as those with disc herniation.
Interpretation: This prospective cohort study indicates a reduction in the need for operative treatment due to injection treatment. The clinical effect is measurable, and a statistically significant improvement of the radicular pain is registered. Routine transforaminal injection treatment prior to surgery seems rewarding, but the complication risk must be taken into consideration.