Condition category
Musculoskeletal Diseases
Date applied
Date assigned
Last edited
Prospectively registered
Overall trial status
Recruitment status

Plain English Summary

Background and study aims
We are carrying out a study of about 200 patients suffering from sciatica resulting from a prolapsed (slipped) disc. The aim is to establish if local anaesthetic and steroid injection (TFESI) administered accurately to the source of radicular leg pain can provide a faster, cheaper and more effective treatment for patients with persistent sciatica than an invasive surgical procedure (microdiscectomy). The study’s findings should help advise clinicians on which treatment type may bring the most benefit to patients.

Who can participate?
Patients aged 16 or over with recently diagnosed sciatica secondary to a prolapsed disc with symptoms of between 6 weeks and 12 months in duration.

What does the study involve?
The trial will be run in out-patient NHS neurosurgical, pain and orthopaedic clinics. Patients who would like to take part will be allocated to either the epidural steroid injection or microdiscectomy by a process called ‘randomisation’ with an aim for a 50/50 split of each treatment. The treatment will take place between 4-6 weeks after randomisation. 3 months after treatment the patient will be asked to complete questionnaires to assess how successful the treatment has been. These questionnaires will be repeated at 6, 9 and 12 months to measure the ongoing results of the treatment options.

What are the possible benefits and risks of participating?
Both of the treatment options offered as part of this trial are currently used by the NHS as treatments for sciatica secondary to a prolapsed disc and are considered effective therapies. There should be benefits to all patients suffering acute radicular leg pain as this should help guide treatment options for these patients in the future. The side effects are those commonly associated with spinal surgery or injection; these are well documented.

Where is the study run from?
The lead centre for NERVES is The Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery NHS Foundation Trust. It is anticipated that several other specialist centres in Manchester, Cambridge, Glasgow, Preston, Leeds and Middlesborough will also be involved.

When is study starting and how long is it expected to run for?
January 2015 until May 2017.

Who is funding the study?
The National Institute of Health Research – Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA)

Who is the main contact?
Mr Martin Wilby

Trial website

Contact information



Primary contact

Mr Martin Wilby


Contact details

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
Lower Lane
L9 7LJ
United Kingdom

Additional identifiers

EudraCT number

2014-002751-25 number

Protocol/serial number

HTA 12/201/10

Study information

Scientific title

Multi-centre randomised control trial comparing the clinical and cost effectiveness of trans-foraminal epidural steroid injection to surgical microdiscectomy for the treatment of chronic radicular pain secondary to prolapsed intervertebral disc herniation: Nerve rootblock versus surgery (NERVES)



Study hypothesis

This study is designed to provide an evidence base to potentially inform future treatment of sciatica secondary to prolapsed disc. Transforaminal epidural steroid injection is recognised as a treatment alternative to surgical microdiscectomy, but it is not known how effective and cost effective this treatment is in comparison. This trial will compare the epidural steroid injection and microdiscectomy, and examine the impact of the different treatment modalities on several outcomes such as Oswestry Disability Questionnaire scores, return to work, and other health economic analyses.

Ethics approval

NRES Committee North West – Liverpool Central, 08/10/2014, ref: 14/NW/1219

Study design

Open labelled 2-arm randomised controlled trial with an inbuilt pilot study

Primary study design


Secondary study design

Randomised controlled trial

Trial setting


Trial type


Patient information sheet

Not available in web format, please use the contact details below to request a patient information sheet


Acute sciatica secondary to prolapsed intervertebral disc


The technologies to be compared are:
1. Fluoroscopically guided trans-foraminal epidural steroid injection (TFESI) of a standard combination of local anaesthetic and steroid drug and
2. standard surgical lumbar microdiscectomy

Intervention type



Not Applicable

Drug names

Primary outcome measures

Pilot Study (recruitment from 2 sites for 6 months):
Predicted full trial recruitment period <18 months and consent rate >40%

Full study:
Oswestry Disability Questionnaire (ODQ; a condition specific outcome measure with over 30 years of scientific validation) at 3 months post-intervention

Secondary outcome measures

1. ODQ at 6 months post intervention
2. ODQ at 9 months post intervention
3. ODQ at 12 months post intervention
4. Visual analogue pain scores for leg and back pain
5. Likert Scale
6. Modified Roland-Morris outcome scale for sciatica
7. Core Outcome Measures Index (COMI)
8. Work status (return to work)
9. QOL
10. Health economic outcomes expressed as the incremental cost per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY)

Overall trial start date


Overall trial end date


Reason abandoned


Participant inclusion criteria

As of 19/05/2016:
1. Diagnosed lower extremity radiculopathy (sciatica)
2. Sciatica secondary to prolapsed intervertebral disc (PID) (proven on MRI)
3. Duration of symptoms between 6 weeks and 12 months
4. Leg pain non-responsive to conservative, non-invasive management
5. Age 16 – 65 years
6. Patient has attempted at least one form of conservative (non-operative) treatment* but this has not provided adequate relief of patient’s pain/symptoms
7. Patient willing and able to give consent

*including but not limited to; medication, physiotherapy, modification of daily activities

Previous inclusion criteria:
1. Newly diagnosed disabling sciatica secondary to prolapsed intervertebral disc (proven on MRI)
2. Duration of symptoms between 6 weeks and 6 months
3. Failed conservative, non-invasive management
4. Age over 16 years
5. Diagnosed with lower extremity radiculopathy (sciatica) secondary to a lumbar disc herniation
6. Medication has not been helpful in treating the patient's pain/symptoms
7. Modification of daily activities has not been helpful in treating the patient's pain/symptoms
8. Physiotherapy has not been helpful in treating the patient's pain/symptoms
9. Patient willing to give consent

Participant type


Age group




Target number of participants


Participant exclusion criteria

As of 19/05/2016:
1. Serious neurological deficit (e.g. foot-drop/possible cauda-equina compression)
2. Previous spinal surgery at the same intervertebral disc (level)
3. Sciatica presentation for longer than 12 months
4. Age < 16
5. Age > 65
6. Patient has not attempted any form of conservative treatment
7. Any patient who has a contraindication for surgery and/or injection
8. Patient known to be pregnant

Previous exclusion criteria:
1. Neurological deficit (foot-drop/possible cauda-equina compression)
2. Previous surgery at that level
3. Age: < 16
4. Any patient who has not attempted conservative non-operative treatment for a minimum of 6 weeks
5. Any patient who has a contraindication for surgery
6. Any patient who is pregnant

Recruitment start date


Recruitment end date



Countries of recruitment

United Kingdom

Trial participating centre

The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
L9 7LJ
United Kingdom

Sponsor information


The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust (UK)

Sponsor details

c/o Dave Watling
The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust
Lower Lane
L9 7LJ
United Kingdom
+44(0)151 525 3611

Sponsor type




Funder type


Funder name

NIHR Health Technology Assessment Programme - HTA (UK)

Alternative name(s)

Funding Body Type

Funding Body Subtype


Results and Publications

Publication and dissemination plan

Not provided at time of registration

Intention to publish date

Participant level data

Not provided at time of registration

Results - basic reporting

Publication summary

Publication citations

Additional files

Editorial Notes

19/05/2016: Made changes to exclusion and exclusion criteria as indicated in the relevant fields. Added trial website and EudraCT number.