Lewis, R, Williams, Nefyn H, Sutton, A., Burton, A. Kim, Din, N, Matar, HE, Hendry, M, Phillips, CJ, Nafees, S, Fitzsimmons, D, Rickard, I and Wilkinson, Clare (2015) Comparative Clinical Effectiveness of Management Strategies for Sciatica: Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analyses. The Spine Journal, 15 (6). pp. 1461-1477. ISSN 15299430

There are numerous treatment approaches for sciatica. Previous systematic reviews have not compared all these strategies together.
To compare the clinical effectiveness of different treatment strategies for sciatica simultaneously.
Study design
Systematic review and network meta-analysis.
We searched 28 electronic databases and online trial registries, along with bibliographies of previous reviews, for comparative studies evaluating any intervention to treat sciatica in adults, with outcome data on global effect or pain intensity. Network meta-analysis methods were used to simultaneously compare all treatment strategies and allow indirect comparisons of treatments between studies. The study was funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) HTA programme; there are no potential conflict of interests.
Of 122 relevant studies, 90 were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi-RCTs. Interventions were grouped into 21 treatment strategies. Internal and external validity of included studies was very low. For overall recovery as the outcome, compared with inactive control or conventional care, there was a statistically significant improvement following disc surgery, epidural injections, non-opioid analgesia, manipulation, and acupuncture. Traction, percutaneous discectomy and exercise therapy were significantly inferior to epidural injections or surgery. For pain reduction as the outcome, epidural injections and biological agents were significantly better than inactive control, but similar findings for disc surgery were not statistically significant. Biological agents were significantly better for pain reduction than bed rest, non-opioids, and opioids, or radiofrequency treatment. Opioids, education/advice alone, bed rest, and percutaneous discectomy and radiofrequency treatment were inferior to most other treatment strategies; although these findings represented large effects, they were statistically equivocal.
For the first time many different treatment strategies for sciatica have been compared in the same systematic review and meta-analysis. This approach has provided new data to assist shared decision-making. The findings support the effectiveness of non-opioid medication, epidural injections and disc surgery. They also suggest that spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and experimental treatments such as anti-inflammatory biological agents, may be considered. The findings do not support the effectiveness of opioid analgesia, bed rest, exercise therapy, education/advice (when used alone), percutaneous discectomy or traction. The issue of how best to estimate the effectiveness of treatment approaches according to their order within a sequential treatment pathway remains an important challenge.

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