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Suprascapular nerve block (using bupivacaine and methylprednisolone acetate) in chronic shoulder pain
  1. E M Shanahan1,2,
  2. M Ahern1,
  3. M Smith1,
  4. M Wetherall1,
  5. B Bresnihan2,
  6. O FitzGerald2
  1. 1Rheumatology Research Unit, Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park. South Australia, Australia 5041
  2. 2Department of Rheumatology, St Vincent’s University Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin 4, Ireland
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr M Shanahan, Rheumatology Research Unit, Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park, South Australia, Australia 5041;


Background: Shoulder pain from inflammatory arthritis and/or degenerative disease is a common cause of morbidity in the community. It is difficult to treat and there are limited data on the efficacy of most interventions. Suprascapular nerve block has shown promise in limited trials in reducing shoulder pain. There have been no large randomised placebo controlled trials examining the efficacy of suprascapular nerve block for shoulder pain in arthritis and/or degenerative disease using pain and disability end points.

Objective: To perform a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled trial of the efficacy of suprascapular nerve block for shoulder pain in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and/or degenerative disease of the shoulder.

Methods: 83 people with chronic shoulder pain from degenerative disease or RA took part in the trial. If a person had two painful shoulders, these were randomised separately. A total of 108 shoulders were randomised. Patients in the group receiving active treatment had a single suprascapular nerve block following the protocol described by Dangoisse et al, while those in the other group received a placebo injection of normal saline administered subcutaneously. The patients were followed up for 12 weeks by an observer who was unaware of the randomisation and reviewed at weeks 1, 4, and 12 after the injection. Pain, disability, and range of movement data were gathered.

Results: Clinically and statistically significant improvements in all pain scores, all disability scores, and some range of movement scores in the shoulders receiving suprascapular nerve block compared with those receiving placebo were seen at weeks 1, 4, and 12. There were no significant adverse effects in either group.

Conclusion: Suprascapular nerve block is a safe and efficacious treatment for the treatment of shoulder pain in degenerative disease and/or arthritis. It improves pain, disability, and range of movement at the shoulder compared with placebo. It is a useful adjunct treatment for the practising clinician to assist in the management of a difficult and common clinical problem.

  • suprascapular nerve block
  • shoulder pain
  • NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • RA, rheumatoid arthritis
  • SF-36, Short Form-36
  • SPADI, shoulder pain and disability index

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