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.”

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.