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Randomized Controlled Trial
, 343, d5278

Effect of Caudal Epidural Steroid or Saline Injection in Chronic Lumbar Radiculopathy: Multicentre, Blinded, Randomised Controlled Trial

Randomized Controlled Trial

Effect of Caudal Epidural Steroid or Saline Injection in Chronic Lumbar Radiculopathy: Multicentre, Blinded, Randomised Controlled Trial

Trond Iversen et al. BMJ.


Objective: To assess the efficacy of caudal epidural steroid or saline injection in chronic lumbar radiculopathy in the short (6 weeks), intermediate (12 weeks), and long term (52 weeks).

Design: Multicentre, blinded, randomised controlled trial.

Setting: Outpatient multidisciplinary back clinics of five Norwegian hospitals.

Participants: Between October 2005 and February 2009, 461 patients assessed for inclusion (presenting with lumbar radiculopathy >12 weeks). 328 patients excluded for cauda equina syndrome, severe paresis, severe pain, previous spinal injection or surgery, deformity, pregnancy, ongoing breast feeding, warfarin therapy, ongoing treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, body mass index >30, poorly controlled psychiatric conditions with possible secondary gain, and severe comorbidity.

Interventions: Subcutaneous sham injections of 2 mL 0.9% saline, caudal epidural injections of 30 mL 0.9% saline, and caudal epidural injections of 40 mg triamcinolone acetonide in 29 mL 0.9% saline. Participants received two injections with a two week interval.

Main outcome measures: Primary: Oswestry disability index scores. Secondary: European quality of life measure, visual analogue scale scores for low back pain and for leg pain.

Results: Power calculations required the inclusion of 41 patients per group. We did not allocate 17 of 133 eligible patients because their symptoms improved before randomisation. All groups improved after the interventions, but we found no statistical or clinical differences between the groups over time. For the sham group (n = 40), estimated change in the Oswestry disability index from the adjusted baseline value was -4.7 (95% confidence intervals -0.6 to -8.8) at 6 weeks, -11.4 (-6.3 to -14.5) at 12 weeks, and -14.3 (-10.0 to -18.7) at 52 weeks. For the epidural saline intervention group (n = 39) compared with the sham group, differences in primary outcome were -0.5 (-6.3 to 5.4) at 6 weeks, 1.4 (-4.5 to 7.2) at 12 weeks, and -1.9 (-8.0 to 4.3) at 52 weeks; for the epidural steroid group (n=37), corresponding differences were -2.9 (-8.7 to 3.0), 4.0 (-1.9 to 9.9), and 1.9 (-4.2 to 8.0). Analysis adjusted for duration of leg pain, back pain, and sick leave did not change this trend.

Conclusions: Caudal epidural steroid or saline injections are not recommended for chronic lumbar radiculopathy. Trial registration Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN No 12574253.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at (available on request from the corresponding author) and declare: this study was supported by the North Norway Regional Health Authority and Health Region Nord-Trøndelag; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous 3 years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.


Fig 1 Flow of participants in study
Fig 2 Mean Oswestry disability index score at follow-up
Fig 3 Mean visual analogue scale score for leg pain at follow-up
Fig 4 Mean visual analogue scale score for back pain at follow-up
Fig 5 Repeated measurement of mean score for European quality of life measure

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