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Cervical Transforaminal Epidural Steroid Injections: A Proposal for Optimizing the Preprocedural Evaluation With Available Imaging
  1. Isuta Nishio, MD, PhD
  1. Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
  1. Address correspondence to: Isuta Nishio, MD, PhD, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington, VA Puget Sound Health Care System, 1660 S Columbian Way, S-112-Anes, Seattle, WA 98108 (e-mail: nishioi{at}


Abstract Cervical transforaminal epidural steroid injection (CTFESI) has been used to treat cervical radicular pain; however, rare but serious complications such as cerebellar or spinal cord infarction have been reported. The most probable causes of the serious complications include vertebral artery trauma, spasm, or accidental arterial injection of particulate steroid. Several recommendations have been made to improve the safety of CTFESI; however, evaluation and risk assessment of the patient’s anatomy by the interventionist have not been sufficiently emphasized. Significant correlations between foraminal narrowing and proximity of the vertebral artery to the target of needle have been reported. This correlation is particularly problematic for interventionists because patients considered or referred for CTFESI are more likely to have foraminal narrowing at the level concerned. Without knowing the patient’s anatomy, a common practice of rotating the C-arm obliquely to obtain a full view of the target foramen may carry significant risk of needle’s encounter with the vertebral artery. Risk assessment through careful preprocedural review of the patient’s magnetic resonance imaging by the interventionist is a worthwhile practice to optimize safety. Special attention should be paid to the vital structures such as the vertebral artery, neural foramen, and carotid artery. A preprocedural roadmap for the safest predicted needle trajectory can be created by simulation using the patient’s available magnetic resonance imaging scans. These considerations may guide and help the interventionist to minimize the risk of inadvertent needle placement involving vital structures such as the vertebral artery or carotid artery.

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  • The author declares no conflict of interest.