A prospective, randomized, controlled trial comparing ultrasound versus nerve stimulator guidance for interscalene block for ambulatory shoulder surgery for postoperative neurological symptoms

Anesth Analg. 2009 Jul;109(1):265-71. doi: 10.1213/ane.0b013e3181a3272c.


Background: Visualization with ultrasound during regional anesthesia may reduce the risk of intraneural injection and subsequent neurological symptoms but has not been formally assessed. Thus, we performed this randomized clinical trial comparing ultrasound versus nerve stimulator-guided interscalene blocks for shoulder arthroscopy to determine whether ultrasound could reduce the incidence of postoperative neurological symptoms.

Methods: Two hundred thirty patients were randomized to a standardized interscalene block with either ultrasound or nerve stimulator with a 5 cm, 22 g Stimuplex insulated needle with 1.5% mepivacaine with 1:300,000 epinephrine and NaCO3 (1 meq/10 mL). A standardized neurological assessment tool (questionnaire and physical examination) designed by a neurologist was administered before surgery (both components), at approximately 1 wk after surgery (questionnaire), and at approximately 4-6 weeks after surgery (both components). Diagnosis of postoperative neurological symptoms was determined by a neurologist blinded to block technique.

Results: Two hundred nineteen patients were evaluated. Use of ultrasound decreased the number of needle passes for block performance (1 vs 3, median, P < 0.001), enhanced motor block at the 5-min assessment (P = 0.04) but did not decrease block performance time (5 min for both). No patient required conversion to general anesthesia for failed block, and patient satisfaction was similar in both groups (96% nerve stimulator and 92% ultrasound). The incidence of postoperative neurological symptoms was similar at 1 wk follow-up with 11% (95% CI of 5%-17%) for nerve stimulator and 8% (95% CI of 3%-13%) for ultrasound and was similar at late follow-up with 7% (95% CI of 3%-12%) for nerve stimulator and 6% (95% CI of 2%-11%) for ultrasound. The severity of postoperative neurological symptoms was similar between groups with a median patient rating of moderate. Symptoms were primarily sensory and consisted of pain, tingling, or paresthesias.

Conclusions: Ultrasound reduced the number of needle passes needed to perform interscalene block and enhanced motor block at the 5 min assessment; however, we did not observe significant differences in block failures, patient satisfaction or incidence, and severity of postoperative neurological symptoms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / instrumentation
  • Ambulatory Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / instrumentation
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Block / instrumentation
  • Nerve Block / methods*
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / surgery
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnostic imaging
  • Postoperative Complications / surgery*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Shoulder / diagnostic imaging
  • Shoulder / surgery*
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional / instrumentation
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional / methods*