Comparison of Supraclavicular and Infraclavicular Brachial Plexus Block: A Systemic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

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Supraclavicular (SC) and infraclavicular (IC) brachial plexus block (BPB) are commonly used for upper extremity surgery. Recent clinical studies have compared the effect of SC- and IC-BPB, but there have been controversies over spread of sensory blockade in each of the 4 peripheral nerve branches of brachial plexus.


This study included a systemic review, using the Medline and EMBASE database from their inceptions through March 2016. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing SC- and IC-BPB were included. The prespecified primary outcome was the incidences of incomplete sensory blockade in each of the 4 terminal nerve branches of brachial plexus. Secondary outcome included the incidence of successful blockade, performance time, onset of sensory block, duration of analgesia, and complication rates.


Ten RCTs involving 676 patients were included. Pooled analyses showed the incidence of incomplete block at 30 minutes in radial nerve territory was significantly higher in IC-BPB, favoring SC-BPB (risk ratio 0.39; 95% confidence interval [0.17–0.88], P = .02, I2 = 0%). However, subgroup analysis according to the number of injections of IC-BPB showed that double or triple injections IC-BPB yielded no difference in the incomplete radial block. Furthermore, the incidence of incomplete ulnar block at 30 minutes was significantly lower in IC-BPB when using double or triple injection IC-BPB. There was no difference in the secondary outcomes between SC- and IC-BPB groups, with the exception of complication rates. The incidence of paresthesia/pain on local anesthetic injection, phrenic nerve palsy, and Horner syndrome was significantly higher in the SC group, favoring IC-BPB.


This meta-analysis demonstrated that IC-BPB showed a significantly high incidence of incomplete radial nerve sensory block at 30 minutes, which may be avoided by double or triple injection. Furthermore, IC-BPB with multiple injection technique showed significantly lower incidence of incomplete ulnar block than SC-BPB. There were no differences in the incidence of successful blockade, block onset, and duration of analgesia between SC- and IC-BPB. Procedure-related paresthesia/pain and adjacent nerve-related complications were more frequent in SC-BPB. However, because of the small sample size, publication bias remains a concern when interpreting our results. Further studies with sufficient sample size and reporting large number of outcomes are required.

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