Effectiveness of Cervical Transforaminal Epidural Steroid Injection

  • End date
    Jul 30, 2023
  • participants needed
  • sponsor
    University of Utah
Updated on 10 October 2021
arm pain
neck pain
radicular pain
epidural steroid injection


Study Purpose:

This study is intended to monitor outcomes for 1 year following cervical TFESI. Based on current clinic volume and enrollment rates into a current study of cervical epidural injections that is nearing completion, we conservatively estimate a study enrollment period of 18 months and a total period of 2.5 years from enrollment to final follow-up data collection. If the study were to theoretically start enrolling in July 2019, we would anticipate completion by February 2022.

  1. Determine the proportion of patients with an 80% or greater improvement in arm and neck numerical rating scale pain (NRS) score following an initial cervical transforaminal steroid injection (TFESI) at 4 weeks post-injection and the duration of response up to 12 months.
  2. Determine the proportion of patients with a 50%-79% improvement in arm and neck NRS score following an initial cervical TFESI at 4 weeks post-injection and the duration of response up to 12 months.
  3. Determine the proportion of patients with less than 50% improvement in arm and neck NRS score following an initial cervical TFESI at 4 weeks post-injection and the duration of response up to 12 months.
  4. Determine the proportion of patients with an initial injection plus up to 3 additional injections that maintain 80% or greater, as well as 50-79%, improvement in arm and neck NRS score for up to 12 months.
  5. Determine the proportion of patients with a clinically significant change in function defined by a minimally clinically significant change (MCIC) (10 point improvement ) or 30% improvement in Neck Disability Index (NDI) score following an initial cervical TFESI at 4 weeks post-injection and the duration of response up to 12 months.
  6. Determine the proportion of patients with clinically significant improvement in the Medication Quantification Scale (MQS III) score (6.8 point change , equivalent to 10 oral morphine equivalents ) following an initial cervical TFESI at 4 weeks post-injection and the duration of response up to 12 months.
  7. Determine the proportion of patients with clinically significant improvement in the categorical EuroQol 5 Dimensions tool (EQ-5D) defined by 0.03 following an initial cervical TFESI at 4 weeks post-injection and the duration of response up to 12 months.
  8. Compare patient demographic, clinical, and imaging characteristics between response groups and perform predictive modeling to better understand variables that increase the likelihood of a successful clinical outcome.
  9. Report adverse effects.


Background and Project Justification: Neck pain is now the fourth leading cause of years lost to disability, shortly after back pain, depression, and arthralgia. Cervical radiculopathy, a common cause of neck and radiating arm pain, is estimated to afflict 83:100,000 individuals yearly. Age-related cervical spondylosis and disc herniation are the most common causes, with the C6 and C7 nerve roots most frequently affected. In general, patients who experience new onset radicular pain tend to improve within 4-6 months, with complete recovery in over 80% of patients by 24-36 months. However, a significant proportion of patients experience severe pain and associated functional impairment despite conservative care, which often prompts physician directed interventions.

Cervical transforaminal epidural steroid injection (TFESI) is a target-specific treatment for refractory radicular pain. Analgesic mechanisms for epidural steroid administration include reducing inflammation at the nerve root, reducing nociceptive input from somatic nerves, stabilization of neural membranes, and blockade of C fiber activity in the dorsal root ganglion . Previously, this procedure was associated with rare but catastrophic neurologic injury, though to be related to inadvertent deposit of particulate steroid into the vertebral artery or radiculomedullary arteries, both of which traverse through or close to the cervical neuroforamina . Since the physician community has adopted new guidelines that include the use of only non-particulate steroid during cervical TFESI , neurologic infarction has not been reported in the literature. When the Spine Intervention Society (SIS) clinical practice guidelines are employed, large cohort study demonstrates zero prevalence of serious complications associated with this procedure .

While high-quality outcome literature demonstrates both efficacy and effectiveness for analogous use of this intervention in the lumbar spine, far fewer studies have addressed clinical outcomes associated with cervical TFESI in which appropriate procedure technique , outcome measurement, data analysis, and results interpretation have been reported . Outcome literature reporting on the use of cervical TFESI is limited by small sample size, retrospective design with loss of follow-up, lack of categorical data analysis, and a failure to stratify results by demographic and clinical variables that potentially influence pain and functional outcomes. Further, outcome literature reports on the effect of particulate steroid injectate during cervical TFESI is no longer relevant to appropriate clinical practice in the context of unequivocal guidelines. Pragmatic studies with a cervical TFESI arm in which dexamethasone was use do allow for some insight regarding success rates associated with this procedure; calculates of success rates in these studies arms demonstrate responder rates of 60% achieving >50% pain relief (CI95 35-85%) at 4 weeks, 55% achieving >50% (CI95 43-67%) at 8 weeks, and 65% achieving >50% at 12 weeks (CI95 48-81%). These responder rates are encouraging, but limited by wide 95% confidence intervals due to small sample size. Prior systematic review has concluded that the evidence for treatment benefit of radicular pain by cervical TFESI is of very low quality due to multiple limitations in study design introducing risk of bias, but does overall suggest approximately 50% patients experience 50% relief of radicular pain for at least 4 weeks after cervical TFESI.

Additional clinical outcome literature is needed, particularly given recent policy decisions, such as that of Oregon State in relation to ending coverage of epidural steroid injections at any spinal level. Without expansion of the evidence-basis for this important procedure, there is a risk that this treatment option may be taken away from patients suffering from cervical radicular pain by further policy change. A sham-controlled trial, similar to the Ghahreman study, would be ideal; however, due to cost considerations germane to a study designed and conducted in a manner that would prevent any possible criticism from the larger medical community, we instead propose a high-quality, large prospective cohort study as a significant contribution to the literature. Even the best designed trials, such as Dreyfuss' 2006 study, have been underpowered to definitively demonstrate effectiveness; notably, the lower bound of the 95% confidence interval of the proportion of treatment responders in this study was 35%. The investigators aim to conduct a large enough cohort study narrow the 95% confidence interval of the proportion of responders substantially. Preliminary data from our center demonstrates a responder rate of 55% at 4-week follow-up (n=22), based on a definition of 50% improvement in index pain (Appendix A). These data represent analysis of consecutive patients who underwent cervical TFESI for unilateral radicular pain as a part of a different prospective outcome study at our center, nearing completion. This responder rate represents a conservative estimate of what might be expected in the proposed work, as the current study includes less stringent inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Further, the investigators intend to use the results of this study as foundational data from which to propose a randomized controlled study through a large federal funding mechanism. It is imperative that such a trial be conducted by investigators who are experienced with this procedure and understand the appropriate standards for the design and interpretation of the results of a study of a treatment intervention for pain. Our spine research group is well-positioned for this, and we absolutely welcome the input and mentorship of the Spine Intervention Society Research Division, Board of Directors, and other leadership towards this mutual goal.

Condition Spondylosis, Slipped disc, cervical radiculopathy, Radiculopathy, Peripheral Neuropathy
Treatment Cervical Transforaminal Epidural Injection with dexamethasone sodium phosphate
Clinical Study IdentifierNCT04544683
SponsorUniversity of Utah
Last Modified on10 October 2021


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

Adult patients aged 18-80 capable of understanding and providing consent in English and capable of complying with the outcome instruments used
Arm pain or shoulder girdle pain/periscapular pain with or without neck pain with duration less than or equal to 6 months
-day average numeric pain rating score (NRS) for arm pain or shoulder girdle/periscapular pain of at least 4/10 at baseline evaluation, with neck pain score not exceeding arm and/or shoulder girdle/periscapular pain score
MRI (or CT if MRI not available) shows either a one level cervical disc herniation, disc osteophyte complex or degenerative foraminal stenosis, corresponding in side and location with predominately unilateral radicular pain, with or without neurological deficits. MRI may show degenerative changes at other levels
Patient consents to treatment with epidural injection in a shared decision-making process with the treating physician
Pain duration of at least 6 weeks or more

Exclusion Criteria

Those receiving remuneration for their pain treatment (e.g., disability, worker's compensation)
Those involved in active litigation relevant to their pain
The patient is incarcerated
Neck pain is greater than arm pain or shoulder girdle/periscapular pain
Bilateral radicular signs/symptoms (< 90% laterality of pain intensity, or bilateral neurological signs)
Prior epidural steroid injections for treatment of current episode
Those unable to read English and complete the assessment instruments
Spondylolisthesis at the involved or adjacent segments
Systemic inflammatory arthritis (e.g., rheumatoid, lupus)
Addictive behavior, severe clinical depression, or psychotic features
Possible pregnancy or other reason that precludes the use of fluoroscopy
Treatment of infection with antibiotics within the past 7 days
Progressive motor deficit and/or clinical signs of myelopathy
History of prior cervical spine surgery
Medical conditions causing significant functional disability (e.g., stroke, COPD)
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