A Randomized Controlled Trial of Liposomal Bupivacaine Parasternal Intercostal Block for Sternotomy

Ann Thorac Surg. 2019 Jan;107(1):128-134. doi: 10.1016/j.athoracsur.2018.06.081. Epub 2018 Aug 28.


Background: Optimal pain control continues to be a concern in cardiac surgery. Current strategies for postoperative pain management often yield suboptimal results. The superiority of Exparel (Pacira Pharmaceuticals, Inc, Parsippany, NJ) in providing postoperative pain control and opioid sparing is equivocal. This prospective, randomized, double-blind study examines the efficacy of Exparel as a novel single-dose application parasternal nerve block in postoperative pain control and opioid sparing.

Methods: This single-surgeon study included 79 patients undergoing median sternotomy for coronary revascularization. Study participants were randomized to either the drug or a control arm. Each participant received Exparel or normal saline placebo administered as a parasternal nerve block. Postoperative pain was rated according to the nonverbal pain scale or numeric rating scale. Total amount of narcotic pain medication used and patients' pain scores within the first 72 hours postoperatively were compared. Secondary outcomes compared the intensive care unit length of stay, hospital length of stay, time to extubation, time to return of bowel function, and time to return to work or daily activities.

Results: The primary endpoint of pain levels between the two groups demonstrated no significant difference when analyzing the individual time points postoperatively. However, overall pain levels were significantly lower in the study drug group (p = 0.04). There was no significant difference in the amount of analgesics required postoperatively or in secondary endpoints between the groups.

Conclusions: Exparel does not provide an opioid-sparing benefit or any secondary outcome benefit compared with placebo. Exparel may be associated with a marginal decrease in postoperative pain levels. (Parasternal Nerve Bock in Cardiac Patients; NCT01826851.).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anesthetics, Local / administration & dosage
  • Bupivacaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / methods
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Intercostal Nerves
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Block / methods*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / diagnosis
  • Pain, Postoperative / drug therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sternotomy / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Bupivacaine

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01826851