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Summary

Shoulder surgery is well recognised as having the potential to cause severe postoperative pain. The aim of this review is to assess critically the evidence relating to the effectiveness of regional anaesthesia techniques commonly used for postoperative analgesia following shoulder surgery. Subacromial/intra-articular local anaesthetic infiltration appears to perform only marginally better than placebo, and because the technique has been associated with catastrophic chondrolysis, it can no longer be recommended. All single injection nerve blocks are limited by a short effective duration. Suprascapular nerve block reduces postoperative pain and opioid consumption following arthroscopic surgery, but provides inferior analgesia compared with single injection interscalene block. Continuous interscalene block incorporating a basal local anaesthetic infusion and patient controlled boluses is the most effective analgesic technique following both major and minor shoulder surgery. However, interscalene nerve block is an invasive procedure with potentially serious complications and should therefore only be performed by practitioners with appropriate experience.