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Do Epidural Corticosteroid Injections Help Sciatica Patients?

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When other treatments to relieve the pain have no effect, people with lower back and leg pain from sciatica sometimes go for steroid injections.

But how effective is this option of injecting medication into the epidural space around the spine?

Recent research analysed data from 23 studies involving 2,334 sciatica patients who had been randomly administered epidural corticosteroid injections or a placebo. Both groups of patients reported the same levels of low back pain, while leg pain was slightly lower (an average of six points lower on a 100-point scale) for those who were given corticosteroid injections relative to the placebo group.

The patients with the steroid treatment also reported slight short-term (two weeks to three months) improvement in disability. After 12 or more months, there was very little difference in leg or back pain or in disability between the placebo and the steroid groups.

Pain data was based on the subjects’ perceptions and the study did not report on potential risks from epidural steroid injections.

The findings suggest that epidural corticosteroid injections offer only mild and short-term relief of leg pain and disability for patients with sciatica. The limited treatment effects raise questions about the clinical utility of this treatment option, the researchers said.