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BACKGROUND: Ultrasound (US) guidance for peripheral nerve blockade has gained popularity worldwide. The reported benefits of real-time sonographic visualization compared with traditional nerve localization techniques generally apply to procedural and technical block-related outcomes whereas acute pain-related outcomes are featured less prominently. In this review, we evaluated the effect of US guidance compared with traditional nerve localization techniques for interventional management of acute pain and acute pain-related outcomes.

METHODS: We performed a systematic search of MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Clinical Trials (from January 1990 to January 2011) to identify randomized controlled trials evaluating the effects of US guidance on acute pain and related outcomes compared with traditional nerve localization techniques. Studies were excluded if they did not report at least one of the following acute pain outcomes: pain severity, opioid consumption, sensory block duration, and time to first analgesic request. Related outcomes were classified as follows: patient related (opioid-related adverse effects, patient satisfaction, postoperative cognitive deficit); anesthesia related (unwanted motor block, perineural catheter failure, morbidity, development of chronic pain); surgery related (hospital readmission, ability to ambulate); and hospital related (length of stay, cost). Promising novel applications of US guidance for acute pain management were also sought for discussion purposes.

RESULTS: We identified 23 randomized controlled trials, including 1674 patients, that compared US guidance with and without peripheral nerve stimulation with peripheral nerve stimulation alone or anatomical landmark techniques. Of the 16 studies that evaluated pain severity, 8 reported improvement with US guidance; however, only 1 study reported a difference between US guidance and the comparator of >1 interval on the numeric rating pain scale. Eight studies evaluated sensory block duration and 3 of these reported prolonged block duration with US guidance. Seven studies evaluated opioid consumption, of which 3 reported a reduction with US guidance. Three studies evaluated time to first analgesic request, of which 2 favored US guidance. We uncovered no significant differences between US guidance and traditional nerve localization techniques for any other related outcome. US guidance was not found to be inferior compared with traditional nerve localization techniques for any outcome. Nonrandomized data suggest that US-guided transversus abdominis plane blocks may offer analgesic benefit over standard analgesic therapy, but has not been compared with an anatomical landmark technique.

CONCLUSIONS: At present, there is insufficient evidence in the contemporary literature to define the effect of US guidance on acute pain and related outcomes compared with traditional nerve localization techniques for interventional acute pain management.

(C) 2011 International Anesthesia Research Society