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David Auyong, MD

SEATTLE – (May 9, 2018) – A study at Virginia Mason Medical Center has confirmed there is a safer way to effectively treat pain following major arthroscopic shoulder surgery.

Researchers determined that using a nerve block at the suprascapular level of the shoulder, where nerves from the spinal cord in the neck travel down the arm, relieves pain just as well as the more common interscalene nerve block. Most importantly, this new approach results in better lung function after surgery, improving the patient’s ability to breathe and recover faster.

The interscalene nerve block is a well-known anesthetic technique to numb nerves to the shoulder. In the past, the main options to provide pain relief after shoulder surgery were narcotics and interscalene nerve blocks. However, both narcotics and interscalene nerve blocks reduce lung function – a particularly concerning side effect in patients who have just had  major shoulder surgery.

“The study shows we can provide effective, non-narcotic pain relief and avoid the potentially dangerous side effect of lung compromise that is associated with an interscalene nerve block,” said Virginia Mason anesthesiologist David Auyong, MD, principal investigator for the study.

“The suprascapular block is a safer treatment for two reasons,” he added. “Patients do not have to rely so much on narcotic pain medicines and their lung function is almost completely normal one hour after surgery. For this reason, it is a preferred pain therapy for our patients immediately following shoulder surgery.”

The study has been accepted for publication by the journal, Anesthesiology.

A total of 189 patients undergoing outpatient arthroscopic shoulder surgery (mostly rotator cuff repairs) participated in this two-year study. Shoulder arthroscopy is minimally invasive surgery that uses a small camera (arthroscope) inserted through an incision to examine or repair damaged tissue inside or around the shoulder joint. Patients typically experience high levels of pain for several days following this procedure.

At Virginia Mason, it has been standard practice to evaluate shoulder surgery patients for a non-narcotic continuous nerve block to improve pain relief for up to three days after the procedure.

“With these study results, we can now offer this benefit to all patients,” said anesthesiologist Stan Yuan, MD, senior author of the study. “This unique aspect of care improves the surgical experience for our patients.”

About Virginia Mason Health System
Virginia Mason, founded in 1920, is a nonprofit regional health care system based in Seattle that serves the Pacific Northwest. In the Puget Sound region, the system includes 336-bed Virginia Mason Hospital; a primary and specialty care group practice of more than 500 physicians; outpatient medical facilities and services in Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Bellevue, Edmonds, Federal Way, Kirkland, Issaquah and Lynnwood; Bailey-Boushay House, the first skilled-nursing and outpatient chronic care management program in the United States designed specifically to meet the needs of people with HIV/AIDS; Benaroya Research Institute, which is internationally recognized for autoimmune disease research; and Virginia Mason Institute, which trains health care professionals and others from around the world in the Virginia Mason Production System, an innovative management methodology for continually improving quality, safety and efficiency.

Virginia Mason Health System also includes Virginia Mason Memorial, a 226-bed hospital serving Yakima Valley in central Washington since 1950.

Media Contact:
Gale Robinette
Media Relations Manager
Virginia Mason Health System
(206) 341-1509


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