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Corticosteroid Injection for Common Upper Extremity Problems

This study has been completed.
Information provided by (Responsible Party):
David C. Ring, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital Identifier:
First received: February 20, 2007
Last updated: April 25, 2012
Last verified: April 2012
The purpose of the study is to compare the effectiveness of a steroid injection to a placebo (inactive substance) in the treatment of lateral elbow pain, deQuervain's tendonitis, or base of the thumb carpometacarpal (CMC) arthritis. We are also trying to identify which personality factors and mindsets influence perceptions of elbow, wrist and hand pain. We hope to enroll 213 subjects in this study.

Condition Intervention
Lateral Elbow Pain
Drug: Placebo Injection
Drug: Steroid (dexamethasone) Injection

Study Type: Interventional
Study Design: Allocation: Randomized
Intervention Model: Parallel Assignment
Masking: Double Blind (Participant, Care Provider)
Primary Purpose: Treatment
Official Title: Corticosteroid Injection for Common Upper Extremity Problems

Further study details as provided by Massachusetts General Hospital:

Primary Outcome Measures:
  • Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand (DASH) Questionnaire [ Time Frame: 6 months ]
    The DASH questionnaire measures arm-specific perceived disability. It contains 30 items and is scaled between zero and 100 with higher scores indicating worse upper-extremity function.

  • Visual Analog Scale for Pain [ Time Frame: 6 months ]
    Pain is measured on a 10 cm long line that starts at 0 on the left and ends with 10 on the right. A score of 0 represents no pain at all, and a score of 10 represents the worst pain ever. The individual score is measured using a measuring rod, measuring the distance from the left border in centimeters.

Enrollment: 64
Study Start Date: April 2003
Study Completion Date: May 2010
Primary Completion Date: May 2010 (Final data collection date for primary outcome measure)
Arms Assigned Interventions
Active Comparator: Dequervains
The de Quervain's injection study was terminated due to difficulty with enrollment. A large percentage of patients declined, and DeQuervain's is also fairly uncommon. Therefore, the trial wasn't feasible for this diagnosis.
Drug: Placebo Injection
Injection without steroid
Drug: Steroid (dexamethasone) Injection
Injection with steroid (dexamethasone)
Active Comparator: Lateral Epicondylitis Drug: Placebo Injection
Injection without steroid
Drug: Steroid (dexamethasone) Injection
Injection with steroid (dexamethasone)
Active Comparator: CMC Arthritis
The CMC Arthritis injection study was terminated due to difficulty with enrollment. A large percentage of patients declined, and it was decided that the trial wasn't feasible for this diagnosis.
Drug: Placebo Injection
Injection without steroid
Drug: Steroid (dexamethasone) Injection
Injection with steroid (dexamethasone)

Detailed Description:

Pain at the origin of the extensor carpi radialis is an extremely common problem. Most patients are between 35 and 55 years of age. This problem has been referred to as tennis elbow, but fewer than 10% of patients with this problem play tennis, and it is not a common problem among professional tennis players. The problem is most commonly called lateral epicondylitis in spite of the fact that pathology specimens show no evidence of an inflammatory process. Instead, tissue necrosis and other findings suggestive of a degenerative process are seen. Previous clinical trials have noted improvement in 80% of patients in one year, even in placebo groups, suggesting that this is a self-limited rather than a progressive disorder.

de Quervain's tenosynovitis and carpometacarpal (CMC) arthritis are also very common upper extremity problems. In de Quervain's tendonitis, inflammation in the first dorsal compartment of the wrist causes tenderness and chronic pain in the radial styloid region when forming a fist or using the thumb. CMC arthritis, most common in women 40-70, causes pain at the base of the thumb. Descriptions of the severity of this condition can range from stiffness to disability, and are associated with complaints of discomfort with pinching and gripping.

These are frustrating conditions, particularly for active people. As a consequence, varied treatments are used routinely in spite of limited scientific support. These treatments can be costly, some have risks, and all of them may reinforce the idea that there is a quick fix or miracle cure. Physicians and patients alike favor quick, direct treatments, but these are not always available. In the absence of effective treatment, the role of the physician is to encourage adaptive behaviors based upon an understanding of the nature of the illness.

Lateral elbow pain, de Quervain's tenosynovitis and CMC arthritis are extremely common and not all patients seek a physician's advice—many develop adaptive behaviors and manage well on their own. Our research unit has taken interest in studying psychological factors that may be associated with coming to the doctor and poor adaptation to symptoms and dysfunction. These are certainly a factor in the treatment of these conditions.

A condition that is extremely common; is painful and disabling; and has no clear etiology, pathophysiology, or cure represents a tempting market for products and devices claiming to offer relief. The marketing and application of these devices reinforces patient's desires for a quick fix, miracle cure. It also tends to take advantage of people with less adaptive health behaviors. Conscientious use of treatments in this setting requires strong evidence of their safety and efficacy.

Injection of corticosteroids is a common treatment for lateral elbow pain, de Quervain's tenosynovitis and CMC arthritis. Injections are delivered into the origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis, into the first dorsal compartment of the wrist or into the trapeziometacarpal (TMC) joint, respectively. Several studies have tested the efficacy of steroid injections, including some prospective randomized trials. However, it is remarkable that only one of these have compared corticosteroid injection to placebo injection, especially in light of the fact that conditions like lateral elbow pain and de Quervain's tenosynovitis may be self-limiting. The psychological factors associated with receiving an injection may be important mediators of any treatment effects.


Ages Eligible for Study:   18 Years and older   (Adult, Senior)
Sexes Eligible for Study:   All
Accepts Healthy Volunteers:   No

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Age 18 to 64 years
  • onset of pain within the past 6 months
  • willing to try a steroid injection in the elbow

Exclusion Criteria:

  • systemic inflammatory diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis)
  • pregnancy
  • prior steroid injection, iontophoresis treatments with corticosteroids, or surgery for their pain
  • history of adverse reaction to lidocaine
  Contacts and Locations
Choosing to participate in a study is an important personal decision. Talk with your doctor and family members or friends about deciding to join a study. To learn more about this study, you or your doctor may contact the study research staff using the Contacts provided below. For general information, see Learn About Clinical Studies.

Please refer to this study by its identifier: NCT00438672

United States, Massachusetts
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston, Massachusetts, United States, 02114
Sponsors and Collaborators
Massachusetts General Hospital
Principal Investigator: David Ring, MD, PhD Massachusetts General Hospital
  More Information

Responsible Party: David C. Ring, MD, Director of Research, Hand Service, Massachusetts General Hospital Identifier: NCT00438672     History of Changes
Other Study ID Numbers: 2003-P-000322
Study First Received: February 20, 2007
Results First Received: March 22, 2012
Last Updated: April 25, 2012

Keywords provided by Massachusetts General Hospital:
lateral elbow pain
tennis elbow

Additional relevant MeSH terms:
Dexamethasone acetate
Dexamethasone 21-phosphate
BB 1101
Anti-Inflammatory Agents
Autonomic Agents
Peripheral Nervous System Agents
Physiological Effects of Drugs
Gastrointestinal Agents
Hormones, Hormone Substitutes, and Hormone Antagonists
Antineoplastic Agents, Hormonal
Antineoplastic Agents
Protease Inhibitors
Enzyme Inhibitors
Molecular Mechanisms of Pharmacological Action processed this record on May 25, 2017