BACKGROUND The predictive value of short-term arm pain relief after 'indirect' cervical epidural steroid injection (ESI) for the 1-month treatment response has been previously demonstrated. It remained to be answered whether the long-term response could be estimated by the early post-interventional pain course as well.
METHODS Prospective observational study, following a cohort of n = 45 patients for a period of 24 months after 'indirect' ESI for radiculopathy secondary to a single-level cervical disk herniation (CDH). Arm and neck pain on the visual analog scale (VAS), health-related quality of life with the Short Form-12 (SF-12), and functional outcome with the Neck Pain and Disability (NPAD) Scale were assessed. Any additional invasive treatment after a single injection (second injection or surgery) defined treatment outcome as 'non-response'.
RESULTS At 24 months, n = 30 (66.7%) patients were responders and n = 15 (33.3%) were non-responders. Non-responders exited the follow-up at 1 month (n = 10), at 3 months (n = 4), and at 6 months (n = 1). No patients were injected again or operated on between the 6- and 24-month follow-up. Patients with favorable treatment response at 24 months had significantly lower VAS arm pain (p < 0.05) than non-responders at days 6, 8-11, and at the 3-month follow-up. The previously defined cut-off of > 50% short term pain reduction was not a reliable predictor of the 24-month responder status. SF-12 and NPAD scores were better among treatment responders in the long term.
CONCLUSIONS Patients who require a second injection or surgery after 'indirect' cervical ESI for a symptomatic CDH do so within the first 6 months. Short-term pain relief cannot reliably predict the long-term outcome.