General anesthesia is the most common type of anesthesia used for surgery. In some cases, an anesthesiologist has the option to use peripheral nerve blocks. What is a peripheral nerve block? It involves the injection of a local anesthetic in the area of one particular nerve or bundle of nerves. These nerves control sensation and movement in a specific part of the body, which means that the nerve block will numb that area.
Benefits of Peripheral Nerve Blocks
- Last longer when compared to local anesthesia.
- More effective for controlling pain compared to intravenous narcotics.
- Patients recover bowel function in less time.
- Reduce the side effects from narcotics so that there is less need for them.
- Make participation in physical therapy easier for patients.
- Safer than general anesthesia for patients with severe medical issues.
Who is a Candidate for a Peripheral Nerve Block?
Patients undergoing any of the following procedures may be candidates for peripheral nerve blocks:
Hand and Arm Surgery
An anesthesiologist may use peripheral nerve blocks for carpal tunnel release and other minor hand surgeries. Axillary blocks and infraclavicular blocks are the commonly used blocks for surgery on the hand, wrist, or elbow.
The nerve block for surgery on the shoulder or upper arm is an interscalene block; it is usually performed in the area around the collarbone.
Knee and Hip Surgery
The common nerve block for knee surgery is the femoral block. An anesthesiologist may use it for anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction and similar procedures. Hip surgery involves a lumbar plexus block.
Foot and Ankle Surgery
Foot surgery will usually involve a popliteal sciatic block in the area at the back of the knee, while an ankle surgery will involve an ankle block.
The Safety of Peripheral Nerve Blocks
Nerve injury that occurs because of a peripheral nerve block is extremely rare. Such injuries occur in only 0.5 to 1 percent of cases according to a study published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia. A slightly larger segment of patients report tingling in the area that was blocked that lasts for longer than a week.
Before receiving a peripheral nerve block, tell your anesthesiologist if you or anyone in your family has had complications after receiving anesthesia. You should also tell them if you have had a high temperature during surgery or immediately after it.