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Intramuscular injections of botulinum toxin for the treatment of upper back myofascial pain syndrome: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials

Eur J Pain. 2023 Nov 10. doi: 10.1002/ejp.2198. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) is a chronic musculoskeletal disorder characterized by the presence of trigger points. Among the treatment options, botulinum toxin injections have been investigated. The aim of this paper was to provide a synthesis of the evidence on intramuscular botulinum toxin injections for upper back MPS.

DATABASES AND DATA TREATMENT: A systematic review of the literature was performed on the PubMed, Scopus and Cochrane Library, using the following formula: (“botulinum”) AND (“musculoskeletal”) AND (“upper back pain”) OR (“myofascial pain”).

RESULTS: Ten studies involving 651 patients were included. Patients in the control groups received placebo (saline solution) injections, anaesthetic injections + dry needling or anaesthetic injections. The analysis of the trials revealed modest methodological quality: one “Good quality” study, one “Fair” and the other “Poor”. No major complications or serious adverse events were reported. Results provided conflicting evidence and did not demonstrate the superiority of botulinum toxin over comparators. Most of the included trials were characterized by a small sample size, weak power analysis, different clinical scores used and non-comparable follow-up periods. Even if there is no conclusive evidence, the favourable safety profile and the positive results of some secondary endpoints suggest a potentially beneficial action in pain control and quality of life.

CONCLUSION: The currently available studies show conflicting results. Their overall low methodological quality does not allow for solid evidence of superiority over other comparison treatments. Further insights are needed to properly profile patients who could benefit more from this peculiar injective approach.

SIGNIFICANCE: The randomized controlled trials included in this review compared using botulinum toxin to treat upper back MPS with placebo or active treatments (e.g., dry needling or anaesthetics) showing mixed results overall. Despite the lack of clear evidence of superiority, our study suggests that the use of botulinum toxin should not be discouraged. Its safety profile and encouraging results in pain control, motor recovery and disability reduction make it an interesting treatment, particularly in the subset of patients with moderate to severe chronic pain and active trigger points. To support the safety and efficacy of botulinum toxin, further high-quality studies are needed.

PMID:37950343 | DOI:10.1002/ejp.2198


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