Nerve Root Blocks in the Treatment of Lumbar Radicular Pain: A Minimum Five-Year Follow-Up

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Background: In a previous prospective, randomized, controlled, double-blinded study on the effect of nerve root blocks on the need for operative treatment of lumbar radicular pain, we found that injections of corticosteroids were more effective than bupivacaine for up to thirteen to twenty-eight months. We performed a minimum five-year followup of those patients who had avoided surgery.

Methods: All of the patients were considered to be operative candidates by the treating surgeon, and all had initially requested operative intervention. They had then been randomized to be treated with a selective nerve-root block with either bupivacaine or bupivacaine and betamethasone. Both the treating physician and the patient were blinded to the type of medication. Of fifty-five randomized patients, twenty-nine avoided an operation in the original study. Twenty-one of those twenty-nine patients were reevaluated with a follow-up questionnaire at a minimum of five years after the initial block.

Results: Seventeen of the twenty-one patients still had not had operative intervention. There was no difference between the group treated with bupivacaine alone and the group treated with bupivacaine and betamethasone with regard to the avoidance of surgery for five years. At the five-year follow-up evaluation, all of the patients who had avoided operative treatment had significant decreases in neurological symptoms and back pain compared with the baseline values.

Conclusions: The majority of patients with lumbar radicular pain who avoid an operation for at least one year after receiving a nerve root injection with bupivacaine alone or in combination with betamethasone will continue to avoid operative intervention for a minimum of five years.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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