BACKGROUND: Epidural glucocorticoid injections are widely used to treat symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis, a common cause of pain and disability in older adults. However, rigorous data are lacking regarding the effectiveness and safety of these injections. METHODS: In a double-blind, multisite trial, we randomly assigned 400 patients who had lumbar central spinal stenosis and moderate-to-severe leg pain and disability to receive epidural injections of glucocorticoids plus lidocaine or lidocaine alone. The patients received one or two injections before the primary outcome evaluation, performed 6 weeks after randomization and the first injection. The primary outcomes were the score on the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RMDQ, in which scores range from 0 to 24, with higher scores indicating greater physical disability) and the rating of the intensity of leg pain (on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 indicating no pain and 10 indicating "pain as bad as you can imagine"). RESULTS: At 6 weeks, there were no significant between-group differences in the RMDQ score (adjusted difference in the average treatment effect between the glucocorticoid-lidocaine group and the lidocaine-alone group, -1.0 points; 95% confidence interval [CI], -2.1 to 0.1; P = 0.07) or the intensity of leg pain (adjusted difference in the average treatment effect, -0.2 points; 95% CI, -0.8 to 0.4; P = 0.48). A prespecified secondary subgroup analysis with stratification according to type of injection (interlaminar vs. transforaminal) likewise showed no significant differences at 6 weeks. CONCLUSIONS: In the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis, epidural injection of glucocorticoids plus lidocaine offered minimal or no short-term benefit as compared with epidural injection of lidocaine alone.
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