The epidural is standard medical practice for patients with sciatic back pain. It's an injection of corticosteroids that is given to improve movement and reduce pain.
Although it's a treatment that has been routinely given to patients for the past 50 years, researchers have only now discovered that the procedure is virtually useless.
It has some short-term benefit - which can last for two to six weeks maximum - but the American Academy of Neurology says that it is no longer a recommended treatment.
The change of heart is based on a study of 300 patients with back pain, which found that the steroids offered no long-term benefits. There was no pain relief or improved movement after 24 hours, nor again at three-, six- and 12-month intervals. The only improvement was recorded between two and six weeks, and this was so insignificant that it was no better than that offered by painkillers such as bupivacaine.
Overall, epidural injections didn't help the patient in his day-to-day functioning, his need for surgery, or his long-term pain.
(Source: Journal of American Medical Association, 2007; 297: 1757-8).
E-news broadcast 10 May 2007 No.358