Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The effect of initial local anesthetic dose with continuous interscalene analgesia on postoperative pain and diaphragmatic function in patients undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery: a double-blind, randomized controlled trial

Craig T Hartrick12*, Yeong-Shih Tang1, Don Siwek1, Robert Murray1, David Hunstad1 and Greg Smith1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anesthesiology, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Beaumont Hospitals - Royal Oak and Troy, Rochester, MI, USA

2 Biomedical Sciences and Anesthesiology, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, 525 O'Dowd Hall, Rochester, MI 48309, USA

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BMC Anesthesiology 2012, 12:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2253-12-6

Published: 23 March 2012



Interscalene block (ISB) is commonly performed using 20-40 mL of local anesthetic. Spread to adjacent structures and consequent adverse effects including paralysis of the ipsilateral hemidiaphragm are frequent. Pain ratings, analgesic requirements, adverse events, satisfaction, function and diaphragmatic excursion were compared following interscalene block (ISB) with reduced initial bolus volumes.


Subjects undergoing arthroscopic rotator cuff repair were randomized to receive 5, 10, or 20 mL ropivacaine 0.75% for ISB in a double-blind fashion (N = 36). Continuous infusion with ropivacaine 0.2% was maintained for 48 h. Pain and diaphragmatic excursion were assessed before block and in the recovery unit.


Pain ratings in the recovery room were generally less than 4 (0-10 NRS) for all treatment groups, but a statistically significant difference was noted between the 5 and 20 mL groups (NRS: 2.67 vs. 0.62 respectively; p = 0.04). Pain ratings and supplemental analgesic use were similar among the groups at 24 h, 48 h and 12 weeks. There were no differences in the quality of block for surgical anesthesia. Dyspnea was significantly greater in the 20 mL group (p = 0.041). Subjects with dyspnea had significant diaphragmatic impairment more frequently (Relative risk: 2.5; 95%CI: 1.3-4.8; p = 0.042). Increased contralateral diaphragmatic motion was measured in 29 of the 36 subjects. Physical shoulder function at 12 weeks improved over baseline in all groups (baseline mean SST: 6.3, SEM: 0.6; 95%CI: 5.1-7.5; 12 week mean SST: 8.2, SEM: 0.46; 95%CI: 7.3-9.2; p = 0.0035).


ISB provided reliable surgical analgesia with 5 mL, 10 mL or 20 mL ropivacaine (0.75%). The 20 mL volume was associated with increased complaints of dyspnea. The 5 mL volume was associated with statistically higher pain scores in the immediate postoperative period. Lower volumes resulted in a reduced incidence of dyspnea compared to 20 mL, however diaphragmatic impairment was not eliminated. Compensatory increases in contralateral diaphragmatic movement may explain tolerance for ipsilateral paresis.

Trial Registration identifier: NCT00672100

Regional anesthesia; Diaphragmatic paresis; Interscalene block; Shoulder surgery; Dyspnea; Compensatory diaphragmatic function; Randomized controlled trial