Aim To determine the cost-effectiveness of corticosteroid injection, physiotherapy and a combination of these interventions, compared to a reference group receiving a blinded placebo injection.
Methods 165 adults with unilateral lateral epicondylalgia of longer than 6 weeks duration from Brisbane, Australia, were randomised for concealed allocation to saline injection ( placebo), corticosteroid
injection, saline injection plus physiotherapy (eight sessions of elbow manipulation and exercise) or corticosteroid injection plus physiotherapy. Costs to society and health-related quality of life (estimated by EuroQol-5D) over the 1 year follow-up were used to generate incremental cost per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) ratios for each intervention relative to placebo.
Results Intention-to-treat analysis was possible for 154 (93%) of trial participants. Physiotherapy was more costly, but was the only intervention that produced a statistically significant improvement in quality of life relative to placebo (MD, 95% CI 0.035, 0.003 to
0.068). Similar cost/QALY ratios were found for physiotherapy ($A29 343; GBP18 962) and corticosteroid injection ($A31 750; GBP20 518); however, the probability of being more cost-effective than placebo at values above $A50 000 per qualityadxjusted life year was 81% for physiotherapy and 53% for corticosteroid injection. Cost/QALY was far greater for a combination of corticosteroid injection and physiotherapy ($A228 000; GBP147 340).
Summary Physiotherapy was a cost-effective treatment for lateral epicondylalgia. Corticosteroid injection was associated with greater variability, and a lower probability of being cost-effective if a willingness to pay threshold of $A50 000 is assumed. A combination of corticosteroid injection and physiotherapy was ineffective and cost-ineffective. Physiotherapy, not corticosteroid injection, should be considered as a first-line intervention for lateral epicondylalgia.