Scientific Article   |    
Scalene Regional Anesthesia for Shoulder Surgery in a Community Setting: An Assessment of Risk
Stephen C. Weber, MD; Ritu Jain, MD
View Disclosures and Other Information
Investigation performed at Sacramento Knee and Sports Medicine and Sutter General Hospital, Sacramento, California

Stephen C. Weber, MD
Sacramento Knee and Sports Medicine, 2801 K Street, #310, Sacramento, CA 95816

Ritu Jain, MD
Sutter General Hospital, 2801 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95816

The authors did not receive grants or outside funding in support of their research or preparation of this manuscript. They did not receive payments or other benefits or a commitment or agreement to provide such benefits from a commercial entity. No commercial entity paid or directed, or agreed to pay or direct, any benefits to any research fund, foundation, educational institution, or other charitable or nonprofit organization with which the authors are affiliated or associated.

J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2002 May 01;84(5):775-779
5 Recommendations (Recommend) | 3 Comments | Saved by 3 Users Save Case


Background: A retrospective review of shoulder procedures using scalene block anesthesia was performed.

Methods: The records of all 218 patients who had undergone scalene block anesthesia over a three-year period at two facilities were retrospectively reviewed. All blocks were performed with use of a standard blunt-needle technique with the patient awake and with use of preoperative nerve stimulation to localize the brachial plexus.

Results: Adjunctive general anesthesia was used for 179 (82%) of the 218 patients. Seventy-two patients (33%) required intravenous pain medication immediately on arrival in the recovery room, and twenty-eight blocks (13%) failed. One grand mal seizure, one episode of cardiovascular collapse, and four episodes of severe respiratory distress were noted. Two patients had temporary neurologic injuries that persisted at six weeks. The mean duration of the block was 9 ± 4.6 hours. Two hundred (92%) of the 218 patients required parenteral narcotics despite the use of scalene block anesthesia.

Conclusion: Informed consent discussions regarding scalene block anesthesia should include information on the prevalence of complications and the efficacy of the technique.

Figures in this Article
    Sign In to Your Personal ProfileSign In To Access Full Content
    Not a Subscriber?
    Get online access for 30 days for $35
    New to JBJS?
    Sign up for a full subscription to both the print and online editions
    Register for a FREE limited account to get full access to all CME activities, to comment on public articles, or to sign up for alerts.
    Register for a FREE limited account to get full access to all CME activities
    Have a subscription to the print edition?
    Current subscribers to The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery in either the print or quarterly DVD formats receive free online access to JBJS.org.
    Forgot your password?
    Enter your username and email address. We'll send you a reminder to the email address on record.

    Forgot your username or need assistance? Please contact customer service at subs@jbjs.org. If your access is provided
    by your institution, please contact you librarian or administrator for username and password information. Institutional
    administrators, to reset your institution's master username or password, please contact subs@jbjs.org


    Accreditation Statement
    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
    CME Activities Associated with This Article
    Submit a Comment
    Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
    Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discretion of JBJS editorial staff.

    * = Required Field
    (if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
    Example: John Doe

    Jerome H. Davis
    Posted on July 02, 2002
    Scalene Regional Anesthesia, another community experience
    John Muir Hospital

    Drs. Weber and Jain are to be commended for gathering retrospective data on experience with regional scalene anesthesia in 218 patients treated over a three year period in two communnity hospitals. They conclude that pre-op consent discussions should include information on the complications that can occur.

    Their article seems to imply that the rate of complications when using this procedure in a community setting is so high that it is not a satisfactory adjunct for perioperative pain control. The authors also present a cost analysis which implies that it is more expensive than alternative pain control modalities.

    We also work in a community hospital based surgery center about an hour away from Sacramento. Our anesthesiologists, some of whom had been performing blocks for the past two to three years, have done 230 blocks since last July. In that period,the failure rate of the initial block was between 5 and 7%,but those patients who failed to achieve pain relief with the first block were routinely re-blocked and we know of no patient who failed to achieve analgesia by the time he or she went home. Our anesthesiologists are not aware of any nerve or cardiovascular injuries. There was one seizure with no sequelae. I have encountered a few patients with some persistent sensory changes in the forearm. These residual signs have uniformly resolved and have been considered negligible by the patients in comparison to the primary shoulder problem. We agree with the authors that some blocks "wear off in the middle of the night". A handful of patients have required an emergency room visit (but not a hospital admission). Thus patients should be advised that a block will wear off eventually, and that more pain can be expected. But that event is well managed with pre-emptive analgesia with Oxycontin and rofecoxib in post op doses.

    I also agree with the authors that the block does have risks. For that reason, we have never used them for post op pain in arthroscopic acromioplasties. This group of patients seems to do well with conventional analgesia and local wound infiltration. Our surgeons typically reserve scalene block for open cuff repairs, open capsulorrhaphies, arthroplasties and fracture work and refractory adhesive capsulitis.

    The authors cost analysis also differs from our experience. The material cost is basically the cost of the local anesthetic, syringe, and needle. Blocks are done in 15 minutes in the preop area while the operating room is turned over, or in some cases, post-operatively on the awake patient to prolong post op pain relief. The anesthesia fee of $440 described as "usual and customary charge"in the article is a fee that no one collects. Our average fee is $150, with lower reimbursement from Medicare and Workers Compensation. Not included in the cost analysis are the cost savings of doing the block. Without blocks, many of the patients who are discharged several hours after their procedure would need over night hospitalization. Given that more than half the patients in this article were in a community hospital, the added PACU and overnight costs would be very significant.

    I have personally undergone a major repair of the rotator cuff, long head of the biceps, and subscapularis. My only anesthesia was the block with supplementary oral rofecoxib, and I had little discomfort for 12 to 18 hours.

    Therefore, based on our experience, I would make the following recommendations: 1.Reserve blocks for procedures traditionally requiring hospitalization,or where pain relief is essential for early passive motion. 2.Just as with introducing a new surgical procedure, blocks should be performed initially by two to four interested anesthesiologists, who will commit to extra training and devise protocols to provide the opportunity for re-block when necessary,and pre-emptive analgesia regimens. 3. Consider blocks not so much for intraoperative anesthesia as for post op pain management. I would like to credit Steve Jacobs,MD,Department of Anesthesia Sequoia Surgical Pavilion and John Muir Medical Center for most of the analysis presented. Jerome H. Davis, MD

    Kenneth Zahl, MD
    Posted on May 12, 2002
    A long run for a short (dangerous) slide
    Solo Practice

    As an anesthesiologist I had performed thousands of non-image guided blocks and never had major complications. Currently as a pain specialist, I perform almost all major blocks with fluoroscopy and wonder how I did not get into more trouble in those days.

    Based on my experience in training other anesthesiologists, and in reviewing several medical malpractice cases, I would agree that the issue of potential complications and their full disclosure to patients is key.

    It seems though, that the anesthesiologists in this study have an inordinately high failure rate with their blocks. If their incidence of unsuccessful blocks is higher than the norm, should they disclose this to patients as part of the informed consent process?

    In analyzing the frequent need for parenteral narcotics within a short period of recovery, and given their high complication rate, I believe, in this group, that the risks of the interscalene blocks outweighed the benefits.

    Kenneth Zahl, MD Diplomate American Board of Aneshtesiology, with additional Qualifications in Pain Medicine Director, Skylands Pain Relief Clinics Rockaway, Morristown, Newton and Union, New Jersey

    Related Content
    The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery
    JBJS Case Connector
    Topic Collections
    Related Audio and Videos
    PubMed Articles
    Analgesia and anesthesia for the breastfeeding mother. -Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine | 11/21/2008
    Prevention and management of pain in the neonate: an update. -American Academy of Pediatrics | 2/2/2007
    Results provided by:
    Clinical Trials
    Readers of This Also Read...
    JBJS Jobs
    GA - Choice Care Occupational Medicine & Orthopaedics
    NY - Modern Chiropractic Care, P.C.
    PA - Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
    LA - Ochsner Health System