Steroid distancing in interventional pain management during COVID-19 and beyond: Safe, effective and practical approach


Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center


Background: Since the late 1940s, corticosteroids have been a mainstay class of agents in multiple interventional techniques and intra-articular injections. Exogenous glucocorticoids are structurally and pharmacologically similar to the endogenous hormones. As such, multiple actions of corticosteroids are exhibited, including those of anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects. Epidural injections, with or without steroids, have been extensively used throughout the world. There are reports of epidural injections starting in 1901, with steroids being added to the local anesthetic since 1952, when steroids were administered into the sacral foramen.

Purpose: Due to the extensive side effects of steroids in various injections, some have proposed limiting their use in epidurals and intraarticular injections. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the multiple side effects of the steroids have elevated the level of concern and recommendations have been made to utilize local anesthetic alone or the lowest dose of steroids. Fashioned from common expressions of the day, the term "steroid distancing" began to be used and proposed for intraarticular injections of the knee. Consequently, we sought to evaluate the evidence and feasibility of steroid distancing in interventional pain management.

Methods: This focused review of local anesthetics and steroids utilized in interventional pain management for epidural injections, peripheral nerve blocks, and intraarticular injections by multiple database searches. This is a focused narrative review and not a systematic review. Consequently, evidence synthesis was not performed traditionally, but was based on an overview of the available evidence.

Results: No significant difference was identified based on whether steroids are added to local anesthetic or not for epidural as well as facet joint injections. However, there was not enough evidence to compare these two groups for peripheral intraarticular injections.

Limitations: The present review is limited by the paucity of literature with bupivacaine alone or bupivacaine with steroids local anesthetic alone or with steroids of intraarticular injections of knee, hip, shoulder and other joints, and intraarticular facet joint injections.

Conclusion: This review shows an overall lack of significant difference between lidocaine alone and lidocaine with steroids in epidural injections. However, available evidence is limited for bupivacaine alone or with steroids. Evidence is also not available comparing local anesthetic alone with steroids for facet joint or peripheral joint intraarticular injections. Thus, it is concluded that local anesthetic with lidocaine may be utilized for epidural injections, with appropriate patient selection and steroids reserved for non-responsive patients with local anesthetic and with significant radiculitis.

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