Lumbar epidural steroids are not cost effective in sciatica

Price, C., Arden, N., & Coglan, L. (2006) Lumbar epidural steroids are not cost effective in sciatica. Rheumatology, 45(S1), i22.

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Lumbar Epidural Steroids Injections (ESI’s) have previously been shown to provide some degree of pain relief in sciatica. Number Needed To Treat (NNT) to achieve 50% pain relief has been estimated at 7 from the results of randomised controlled trials. Pain relief is temporary. They remain one of the most commonly provided procedures in the UK. It is unknown whether this pain relief represents good value for money.


228 patients were randomised into a multi-centre Double Blind Randomised Controlled Trial. Subjects received up to 3 ESI’s or intra-spinous saline depending on response and fall off with the first injection. All other treatments were permitted. All received a review of analgesia, education and physical therapy. Quality of life was assessed using the SF36 at 6 points and compared using independent sample t-tests. Follow up was up to 1 yr. Missing data was imputed using last observation carried forward (LOCF). QALY’s (Quality of Life Years) were derived from preference based heath values (summary health utility score). SF-6D health state classification was derived from SF-36 raw score data. Standard gambles (SG) were calculated using Model 10. SG scores were calculated on trial results. LOCF was not used for this. Instead average SG were derived for a subset of patients with observations for all visits up to week 12. Incremental QALY’s were derived as the difference in the area between the SG curve for the active group and placebo group.


SF36 domains showed a significant improvement in pain at week 3 but this was not sustained (mean 54 Active vs 61 Placebo P<0.05). Other domains did not show any significant gains compared with placebo. For derivation of SG the number in the sample in each period differed. In week 12, average SG scores for active and placebo converged. In other words, the health gain for the active group as measured by SG was achieved by the placebo group by week 12. The incremental QALY gained for a patient under the trial protocol compared with the standard care package was 0.0059350. This is equivalent to an additional 2.2 days of full health. The cost per QALY gained to the provider from a patient management strategy administering one epidural as suggested by results was £25 745.68. This result was derived assuming that the gain in QALY data calculated for patients under the trial protocol would approximate that under a patient management strategy based on the trial results (one ESI). This is above the threshold suggested by some as a cost effective treatment.


The transient benefit in pain relief afforded by ESI’s does not appear to be cost-effective. Further work is needed to develop more cost-effective conservative treatments for sciatica.

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ID Code: 71019
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
ISSN: 0080-2727
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Economics & Finance
Deposited On: 08 May 2014 00:18
Last Modified: 19 May 2017 05:05

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