Utility of the anesthetic test dose to avoid catastrophic injury during cervical transforaminal epidural injections SPINE JOURNAL Smuck, M., Maxwell, M. D., Kennedy, D., Rittenberg, J. D., Lansberg, M. G., Plastaras, C. T. 2010; 10 (10): 857-864


Reports of serious complications from cervical transforaminal epidural corticosteroid injections often consider accidental intra-arterial injection the most likely mechanism of injury. As a result, many physicians have instituted methods to prevent intravascular injections. Routine use of the anesthetic test dose is one such method. The utility of the anesthetic test dose in this function has not been characterized in the current literature.The aim of this study was to determine the utility of injecting an anesthetic test dose before cervical transforaminal epidural corticosteroid injection and estimate the rate of false-negative intravascular contrast injection using live fluoroscopy and digital subtraction angiography (DSA).Two-center retrospective study.A consecutive cohort of men and women, ages of 23 to 83, who underwent cervical transforaminal epidural injection and received the anesthetic test dose after contrast injection was negative for vascular uptake, observed using live fluoroscopy or DSA.Response to the anesthetic test dose was documented in each procedure note and recorded as either positive or negative.Records of three physiatrists at two academic spine centers (Center A and Center B) were reviewed to identify all patients who received a cervical transforaminal epidural injection during the preceding 5 years, resulting in a cohort of consecutively treated patients at each center. Each patient record was reviewed for demographics, indication for injection, procedure level and side, needle gauge, use of DSA, volume and type of anesthetic test dose used, and result of test dose injection. The test dose was considered positive if the following occurred: agitation or other sudden central nervous system change; gross motor deficits and/or paresthesias in the trunk, legs, or contralateral arm; systemic symptoms of anesthetic toxicity including cardiac arrhythmia, perioral numbness, metallic taste, dizziness, and/or ringing in the ear. For analysis, injections were separated into groups to compare results at Center A to Center B and to compare injections that used DSA to those that did not. The incidence of a positive response was calculated as a percentage from the total number of injections in the group. Differences between groups were analyzed for statistical significance using the Fisher exact test.Six hundred seventy-eight injections were included. Of these, 349 were performed at Center A with test doses given after contrast injection under live fluoroscopy. The remaining 329 were performed at Center B, 183 also using live fluoroscopy, and 146 using DSA. The overall incidence of a positive anesthetic test dose was 0.59% (4/678). There was no significant difference between the incidence at each of the two centers (0.86% [3/349] vs. 0.30% [1/329]; p=.63). The overall incidence after live fluoroscopy was 0.75% (4/532) and after DSA was 0% (0/146), but this difference was not statistically significant (p=.58). Positive symptoms elicited by test dose administration included midneck and contralateral arm pain, metallic taste, dizziness, tachycardia, full body paresthesias, auditory changes, slurred speech, and motor ataxia. In all four cases with a positive response, the procedure was immediately terminated, symptoms resolved, and no lasting complications were observed.The routine use of an anesthetic test dose appears to be safe and capable of detecting potentially dangerous intravascular injections undetected by conventional techniques. Positive responses occur in a small portion of those who receive the test dose injection. Further studies are required to determine the optimal dose and concentration of anesthetic to be used and the time required for observation after test dose administration.

View details for DOI 10.1016/j.spinee.2010.07.003

View details for Web of Science ID 000283190400002

View details for PubMedID 20692210