Researchers from the US-based Johns Hopkins Medicine and other institutions have developed a quick clinical test that can predict the effectiveness of epidural steroid injections for people with neck pain.

These steroid injections deliver drugs directly around the spinal nerves to stop a patient’s nerve inflammation and reduce pain.

Although they are said to be a common treatment for neck pain; studies show that these injections are costly and carry risks.

Johns Hopkins Medicine stated that a brief physical exam may help in guiding the best use of the treatment.

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine anesthesiology and critical care medicine professor Steven Cohen said: “Until now, it was really a 50/50 coin flip whether an epidural steroid injection would help any given neck pain patient.

“We looked at many different variables and believe we’ve figured out a quick and reliable way to provide patients with much more accurate, personalised information on their chances of getting better, and actually improve their odds of treatment success.”

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Along with the other researchers, Cohen used the new trial to adapt Waddell signs, a group of eight physical signs that were developed as a tool for identifying patients with back pain that may not be caused due to surgically-treatable physical abnormalities.

These signs include pain that disappears when the patient is distracted; weakness that is not explained by injury or abnormality; tenderness; pain that extends beyond the expected areas of the body; and overreaction to light stimulation.

Waddell signs are mainly used to determine whether back pain is nonorganic, otherwise known as not associated with a direct anatomic cause.

In the new study, researchers at The Johns Hopkins Hospital; Seoul National University, Korea; the District of Columbia Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center examined 78 patients with neck pain for the eight nonorganic physical signs.

Of these patients, 50% (39) had two or more signs before injections; 29% (23) showed no nonorganic signs; and 21% (16) had one nonorganic sign.