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Pain. 1997 Nov;73(2):123-39.

A critical review of controlled clinical trials for peripheral neuropathic pain and complex regional pain syndromes.

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  • 1Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Service, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, CA 94304, USA.


The purpose of this review was to identify and analyze the controlled clinical trial data for peripheral neuropathic pain (PNP) and complex regional pain syndromes (CRPS). A total of 72 articles were found, which included 92 controlled drug trials using 48 different treatments. The methods of these studies were critically reviewed and the results summarized and compared. The PNP trial literature gave consistent support (two or more trials) for the analgesic effectiveness of tricyclic antidepressants, intravenous and topical lidocaine, intravenous ketamine, carbamazepine and topical aspirin. There was limited support (one trial) for the analgesic effectiveness of oral, topical and epidural clonidine and for subcutaneous ketamine. The trial data were contradictory for mexiletine, phenytoin, topical capsaicin, oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and intravenous morphine. Analysis of the trial methods indicated that mexiletine and intravenous morphine were probably effective analgesics for PNP, while non-steroidals were probably ineffective. Codeine, magnesium chloride, propranolol, lorazepam, and intravenous phentolamine all failed to provide analgesia in single trials. There were no long-term data supporting the analgesic effectiveness of any drug and the etiology of the neuropathy did not predict treatment outcome. Review of the controlled trial literature for CRPS identified several potential problems with current clinical practices. The trial data only gave consistent support for analgesia with corticosteroids, which had long-term effectiveness. There was limited support for the analgesic effectiveness of topical dimethylsulfoxyde (DMSO), epidural clonidine and intravenous regional blocks (IVRBs) with bretylium and ketanserin. The trial data were contradictory for intranasal calcitonin and intravenous phentolamine and analysis of the trial methods indicated that both treatments were probably ineffective for most patients. There were consistent trial data indicating that guanethidine and reserpine IVRBs were ineffective, and limited trial data indicating that droperidol and atropine IVRBs were ineffective. No placebo controlled data were available to evaluated sympathetic ganglion blocks (SGBs) with local anesthetics, surgical sympathectomy, or physical therapy. Only the capsaicin trials presented data which allowed for meta-analysis. This meta-analysis demonstrated a significant capsaicin effect with a pooled odds ratio of 2.35 (95% confidence intervals 1.48, 3.22). The methods scores were higher (P < 0.01) for the PNP trials (66.2 +/- 1.5, n = 66) than the CRPS trials (57.6 +/- 2.9, n = 26). The CRPS trials tended to use less subjects and were less likely to use placebo controls, double-blinding, or perform statistical tests for differences in outcome measures between groups. There was almost no overlap in the controlled trial literature between treatments for PNP and CRPS, and treatments used in both conditions (intravenous phentolamine and epidural clonidine) had similar results.

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