Double blind randomized clinical trial examining the efficacy of bupivacaine suprascapular nerve blocks in frozen shoulder

T H Dahan, L Fortin, M Pelletier, M Petit, R Vadeboncoeur, S Suissa
Journal of Rheumatology 2000, 27 (6): 1464-9

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether the pain, contracture, and disability associated with idiopathic frozen shoulder are diminished by a series of 3 indirect bupivacaine suprascapular nerve blocks delivered in an ambulatory care clinic.

METHODS: A double blind randomized controlled trial of patients referred by primary care and specialty clinics in Montreal to an ambulatory tertiary care academic facility. Patients and controls underwent a series of 3 indirect suprascapular nerve blocks at 7 day intervals using either 10 c.c. bupivacaine 0.5 (Marcaine) in the treatment group or 10 c.c. of physiological saline in controls. Subjects in both groups were taught a program of shoulder range of motion exercises to be done at home. The primary outcome measure was the McGill-Melzack Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) short form at 1 month post-randomization (2 weeks after last injection). The secondary outcome measures were disability measured by the simple shoulder test and glenohumeral joint contracture measured by shoulder range of motion measurements.

RESULTS: Thirty-four subjects were randomized from 58 screened. Average age of subjects was 52 years. Mean duration of pain prior to randomization was one year. Dropout rate was 11% in the treatment group, 30% in the placebo group. A 64% reduction in pain in the treatment group versus 13% in the placebo group was observed at one month as measured by the MPQ multidimensional pain descriptors score (p = 0.03). A nonsignificant 15.8% improvement in shoulder function in the treatment group versus 4% in the placebo group (p = 0.24) was also noted. No improvement in shoulder range of movement was noted. No side effects other than transient vagal symptoms and local tenderness at the injection site were reported.

CONCLUSION: The use of bupivacaine suprascapular nerve blocks was effective in reducing the pain of frozen shoulder at one month. Clinical studies with a larger number of subjects and a longer study period will help determine the duration and nature of the effect of bupivacaine suprascapular nerve blocks in treating the pain, disability, and glenohumeral joint contracture of frozen shoulder.

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