Objective: The efficacy of peripheral sympathetic interruption after stellate ganglion blockade was assessed by a sympathetic function test. Results were compared with clinical signs such as temperature changes, pain reduction, and the development of Horner syndrome to evaluate the correlation with clinical investigations.
Design: Stellate ganglion blockade with local anesthetics was carried out via an anterior paratracheal approach in 33 patients suffering from complex regional pain syndrome type I. Patients were examined before and after the procedure. For assessment of sympathetic nervous function, the vasoconstrictor response to sympathetic stimuli was assessed using laser Doppler flowmetry. Clinical parameters like surface temperature changes (thermography), pain relief (visual analogue scale), and Horner syndrome were monitored.
Results: Twenty-three (70%) of 33 patients developed an increase in temperature difference between the treated hand and the contralateral hand of more than 1.5 degreesC after the procedure, which is a clinical sign of sympathicolysis. In 48% (n = 11) of these patients, the sympathetic function test showed an undisturbed sympathetic nervous function. In 10 patients, no significant increase in temperature difference was observed. Although these patients presented with a normal sympathetic vasoconstrictor response, 4 felt pain relief of more than 50%, suggesting a placebo effect. Only 7 patients with pain relief revealed both clinical sympathicolysis and extinguished sympathetic nervous function and qualified for sympathetically maintained pain.
Conclusions: Clinical investigation is not reliable in the assessment of stellate ganglion blockade. Proof of sympathetically maintained pain based on pain relief after stellate ganglion blockade is not conclusive.