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Arch Intern Med. 2012 Jan 23;172(2):134-42. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.593. Epub 2011 Dec 12.

Effect of MRI on treatment results or decision making in patients with lumbosacral radiculopathy referred for epidural steroid injections: a multicenter, randomized controlled trial.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, Johns Hopkins Schoolof Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA.

Erratum in

  • Arch Intern Med. 2012 Apr 23;172(8):673.



Studies have shown that radiologic imaging does not improve outcomes in most patients with back pain, though guidelines endorse it before epidural steroid injections (ESIs). The objective of this study was to determine whether magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) improves outcomes or affects decision making in patients with lumbosacral radiculopathy referred for ESI.


In this multicenter randomized study, the treating physician in group 1 patients was blinded to the MRI results, while the physician for group 2 patients decided on treatment after reviewing the MRI findings. In group 1 subjects, an independent physician proposed a treatment plan after reviewing the MRI, which was compared with the treatment the patient received.


Slightly lower leg pain scores were noted in the group 2 at 1 month compared with MRI-blinded patients in group 1 (mean scores, 3.6 vs 4.4) (P = .12). No differences were observed in pain scores or function at 3 months. Overall, the proportion of patients who experienced a positive outcome was similar at all time points (35.4% at 3 months in group 1 vs 40.7% in group 2). Among subjects in group 1 who received a different injection than that proposed by the independent physician, scores for both leg pain (4.8 vs 2.4) (P = .01) and function (38.7 vs 28.2) (P = .04) were inferior to patients whose injection correlated with imaging. Collectively, 6.8% of patients did not (group 2) or would not have (group 1) received an ESI after the MRI was reviewed.


Magnetic resonance imaging does not improve outcomes in patients who are clinical candidates for ESI and has only a minor effect on decision making. Trial Registration Identifier: NCT00826124.

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