Regional anaesthesia may reduce the rate of persistent postoperative pain (PPP), a frequent and debilitating condition. This review was originally published in 2012 and updated in 2017.
To compare local anaesthetics and regional anaesthesia versus conventional analgesia for the prevention of PPP beyond three months in adults and children undergoing elective surgery.
We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and Embase to December 2016 without any language restriction. We used a combination of free text search and controlled vocabulary search. We limited results to randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We updated this search in December 2017, but these results have not yet been incorporated in the review. We conducted a handsearch in reference lists of included studies, review articles and conference abstracts. We searched the PROSPERO systematic review registry for related systematic reviews.
We included RCTs comparing local or regional anaesthesia versus conventional analgesia with a pain outcome beyond three months after elective, non-orthopaedic surgery.
At least two review authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data and adverse events. We contacted study authors for additional information. We presented outcomes as pooled odds ratios (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (95% CI), based on random-effects models (inverse variance method). We analysed studies separately by surgical intervention, but pooled outcomes reported at different follow-up intervals. We compared our results to Bayesian and classical (frequentist) models. We investigated heterogeneity. We assessed the quality of evidence with GRADE.
In this updated review, we identified 40 new RCTs and seven ongoing studies. In total, we included 63 RCTs in the review, but we were only able to synthesize data on regional anaesthesia for the prevention of PPP beyond three months after surgery from 39 studies, enrolling a total of 3027 participants in our inclusive analysis.Evidence synthesis of seven RCTs favoured epidural anaesthesia for thoracotomy, suggesting the odds of having PPP three to 18 months following an epidural for thoracotomy were 0.52 compared to not having an epidural (OR 0.52 (95% CI 0.32 to 0.84, 499 participants, moderate-quality evidence). Simlarly, evidence synthesis of 18 RCTs favoured regional anaesthesia for the prevention of persistent pain three to 12 months after breast cancer surgery with an OR of 0.43 (95% CI 0.28 to 0.68, 1297 participants, low-quality evidence). Pooling data at three to 8 months after surgery from four RCTs favoured regional anaesthesia after caesarean section with an OR of 0.46, (95% CI 0.28 to 0.78; 551 participants, moderate-quality evidence). Evidence synthesis of three RCTs investigating continuous infusion with local anaesthetic for the prevention of PPP three to 55 months after iliac crest bone graft harvesting (ICBG) was inconclusive (OR 0.20, 95% CI 0.04 to 1.09; 123 participants, low-quality evidence). However, evidence synthesis of two RCTs also favoured the infusion of intravenous local anaesthetics for the prevention of PPP three to six months after breast cancer surgery with an OR of 0.24 (95% CI 0.08 to 0.69, 97 participants, moderate-quality evidence).We did not synthesize evidence for the surgical subgroups of limb amputation, hernia repair, cardiac surgery and laparotomy. We could not pool evidence for adverse effects because the included studies did not examine them systematically, and reported them sparsely. Clinical heterogeneity, attrition and sparse outcome data hampered evidence synthesis. High risk of bias from missing data and lack of blinding across a number of included studies reduced our confidence in the findings. Thus results must be interpreted with caution.
We conclude that there is moderate-quality evidence that regional anaesthesia may reduce the risk of developing PPP after three to 18 months after thoracotomy and three to 12 months after caesarean section. There is low-quality evidence that regional anaesthesia may reduce the risk of developing PPP three to 12 months after breast cancer surgery. There is moderate evidence that intravenous infusion of local anaesthetics may reduce the risk of developing PPP three to six months after breast cancer surgery.Our conclusions are considerably weakened by the small size and number of studies, by performance bias, null bias, attrition and missing data. Larger, high-quality studies, including children, are needed. We caution that except for breast surgery, our evidence synthesis is based on only a few small studies. On a cautionary note, we cannot extend our conclusions to other surgical interventions or regional anaesthesia techniques, for example we cannot conclude that paravertebral block reduces the risk of PPP after thoracotomy. There are seven ongoing studies and 12 studies awaiting classification that may change the conclusions of the current review once they are published and incorporated.