Epidural Steroid Injections, Conservative Treatment, or Combination Treatment for Cervical Radicular Pain: A Multicenter, Randomized, Comparative-effectiveness Study

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Cervical radicular pain is a major cause of disability. No studies have been published comparing different types of nonsurgical therapy.


A comparative-effectiveness study was performed in 169 patients with cervical radicular pain less than 4 yr in duration. Participants received nortriptyline and/or gabapentin plus physical therapies, up to three cervical epidural steroid injections (ESI) or combination treatment over 6 months. The primary outcome measure was average arm pain on a 0 to 10 scale at 1 month.


One-month arm pain scores were 3.5 (95% CI, 2.8 to 4.2) in the combination group, 4.2 (CI, 2.8 to 4.2) in ESI patients, and 4.3 (CI, 2.8 to 4.2) in individuals treated conservatively (P = 0.26). Combination group patients experienced a mean reduction of −3.1 (95% CI, −3.8 to −2.3) in average arm pain at 1 month versus −1.8 (CI, −2.5 to −1.2) in the conservative group and −2.0 (CI, −2.7 to −1.3) in ESI patients (P = 0.035). For neck pain, a mean reduction of −2.2 (95% CI, −3.0 to −1.5) was noted in combination patients versus −1.2 (CI, −1.9 to −0.5) in conservative group patients and −1.1 (CI, −1.8 to −0.4) in those who received ESI; P = 0.064). Three-month posttreatment, 56.9% of patients treated with combination therapy experienced a positive outcome versus 26.8% in the conservative group and 36.7% in ESI patients (P = 0.006).


For the primary outcome measure, no significant differences were found between treatments, although combination therapy provided better improvement than stand-alone treatment on some measures. Whereas these results suggest an interdisciplinary approach to neck pain may improve outcomes, confirmatory studies are needed.

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