Original Research

Risk of Osteoporotic Fracture After Steroid Injections in Patients With Medicare

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To further evaluate the relationship between steroid injections and osteoporotic fracture risk, we analyzed Medicare administrative claims data on both large-joint steroid injections (LJSIs) into knee and hip and transforaminal steroid injections (TSIs), as well as osteoporotic hip and wrist fractures. Our hypothesis was that a systemic effect of steroid injections would increase fracture risk in all skeletal locations regardless of injection site, whereas a local effect would produce a disproportionate increased risk of spine fracture with spine injection.

Patients treated with an LJSI, a TSI, or an epidural steroid injection (ESI) were identified from 5% Medicare claims data. Patients under age 65 years and patients with prior osteoporotic fracture were excluded. Analyses were performed to determine fracture risk (adjusted hazard ratio) for each type of injection.

Analysis of the Medicare data revealed that ESIs were associated with decreased osteoporotic spine fracture risk, but the effect was small and might not be clinically relevant. ESIs did not influence osteoporotic hip or wrist fracture risk, but LJSIs reduced the risk.


 

References

Take-Home Points

  • Analysis of patients in the Medicare database showed that each successive ESI decreased the risk of an osteoporotic spine fracture by 2%, and that each successive LJSI decreases it by 4%.

  • Although statistically significant, this may not be clinically relevant.

  • Successive ESI did not influence the risk of developing an osteoporotic hip or wrist fracture, but that each additional LJSI reduced the risk.

  • Prolonged steroid exposure was found to increase the risk of spine fracture for ESI and LJSI patients.

  • Acute exposure to exogenous steroids via the epidural space, transforaminal space, or large joints does not seem to increase the risk of an osteoporotic fracture of the spine, hip, or wrist.

Epidural steroid injections (ESIs) are widely used in the nonoperative treatment of low back pain, radicular leg pain, and spinal stenosis. The treatment rationale is that locally injected anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids, reduce inflammation by inhibiting formation and release of inflammatory cytokines, leading to pain reduction. 1,2 According to 4 systematic reviews, the best available evidence of the efficacy of ESIs is less than robust. 3-6 These reviews were limited by the heterogeneity of patient selection, delivery mode, type and dose of steroid used, number and frequency of ESIs, and outcome measures.

The association of chronic oral steroid use and the development of osteoporosis was previously established. 7,8 One concern is that acute exposure to steroids in the form of lumbar ESIs may also lead to osteoporosis and then a pathologic fracture of the vertebra. Several studies have found no association between bone mineral density and cumulative steroid dose, 9,10 mean number of ESIs, or duration of ESIs, 10 though other studies have found lower bone mineral density in postmenopausal women treated with ESIs. 11-13

In a study of 3000 ESI patients propensity-matched to a non-ESI cohort, Mandel and colleagues 14 found that each successive ESI increased the risk of osteoporotic spine fracture by 21%. This clinically relevant 21% increased risk might lead physicians to stop prescribing or using this intervention. However, the association between osteoporotic fractures and other types of steroid injections remains poorly understood and underinvestigated. 

To further evaluate the relationship between steroid injections and osteoporotic fracture risk, we analyzed Medicare administrative claims data on both large-joint steroid injections (LJSIs) into knee and hip and transforaminal steroid injections (TSIs), as well as osteoporotic hip and wrist fractures. Our hypothesis was that a systemic effect of steroid injections would increase fracture risk in all skeletal locations regardless of injection site, whereas a local effect would produce a disproportionate increased risk of spine fracture with spine injection.

Materials and Methods

Medicare is a publicly funded US health insurance program for people 65 years old or older, people under age 65 years with certain disabilities, and people (any age) with end-stage renal disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The 5% Medicare Part B (physician, carrier) dataset contains individual claims records for a random sample of Medicare beneficiaries (~2.4 million enrollees). Patients who received steroid injections were identified from 5% Medicare claims made between January 1, 2004 and December 31, 2011. LJSIs were identified by Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code 20610 and any of 16 other CPT codes: J0702, J1020, J1030, J1040, J1094, J1100, J1700, J1710, J1720, J2650, J2920, J2930, J3300, J3301, J3302, and J3303. ESIs were identified by CPT code 62310, 62311, 62318, or 62319, and TSIs by CPT code 64479, 64480, 64483, or 64484. Patients were followed in their initial injection cohort. For example, a patient who received an ESI initially and later received an LJSI remained in the ESI cohort.

Several groups of patients were excluded from the study: those who received Medicare coverage because of their age (under 65 years) and disabilities; those who received Medicare health benefits through health maintenance organizations (healthcare expenses were not submitted to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for payment, and therefore claims were not in the database or were incomplete); those with a prior claim history of <12 months (incomplete comorbidity history); and those who received a diagnosis of osteoporotic fracture ( International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification [ICD-9-CM] code 733.1x) before the initial steroid injection.

We determined the incidence of osteoporotic wrist, hip, and spine fractures within 1, 2, and 8 years after LJSI, ESI, and TSI. Wrist, hip, and spine fractures were identified by ICD-9-CM diagnosis codes 733.12, 733.13, and 733.14, respectively. We also determined the number of steroid injections given before wrist, hip, or spine fracture or, if no fracture occurred,

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