BACKGROUND: Transforaminal epidural steroid injection (TFESI) is a useful treatment modality for pain management. Most complications of TFESI are minor and transient. However, there is a risk of serious complications such as nerve injury, spinal cord infarct, or paraplegia. Some of the risks are related to direct injury to the vessel or intravascular injection of the particulate steroid. We prospectively tested the hypothesis that the intravascular injection rate of the Whitacre needle is lower than that of the Quincke needle during TFESI.
METHODS: This study was a randomized trial of 1376 TFESIs at the S1 level. We collected data of age, gender, height, weight, laterality (right/left), history of lumbosacral spine operation, history of appropriate interval discontinuation of anticoagulation medicines, and underlying disease. During the S1 TFESI, intrasacral bone contact, a blood aspiration test, and real-time fluoroscopy of the intravascular injection using contrast media were investigated.
RESULTS: There were no significant differences in the intravascular injection rate with respect to age, gender, height, weight, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, laterality, history of lumbosacral spine operation, or history of appropriate interval discontinuation of anticoagulation medicines. Intravascular injection was significantly associated with a blood aspiration test (P < 0.001), needle tip type (P = 0.002), intrasacral bone contact (P < 0.001), and physicians (some P < 0.05). The use of Quincke needles and intrasacral bone contact increased the rate of intravascular injection.
CONCLUSIONS: To reduce the risk of intravascular injection, the use of Whitacre needles without intrasacral bone contact may be a safer and more effective approach.