In 1973, Winnie et al. introduced the inguinal paravascular three-in-one block, which allegedly provides anesthesia of three nerves--the femoral, lateral cutaneous femoral, and obturator nerves--with a single injection. This concept was undisputed until the success of the obturator nerve block was reassessed by using evidence of adductor weakness rather than cutaneous sensory blockade, the latter being variable in its distribution and often absent. We performed this study, therefore, to evaluate the area of sensory loss produced by direct injection of local anesthetic around the obturator nerve. A selective obturator nerve block with 7 mL of 0.75% ropivacaine was performed in 30 patients scheduled for knee surgery. Sensory deficit and adductor strength were evaluated for 30 min by using sensory tests (cold and light-touch perception) and the pressure generated by the patient's squeezing a blood pressure cuff placed between the knees. Subsequently, a three-in-one block was performed, and the sensory deficit was reassessed. The obturator nerve block was successful in 100% of cases. The strength of adductors decreased by 77% +/- 17% (mean +/- SD). In 17 patients (57%), there was no cutaneous contribution of the obturator nerve. The remaining 7 patients (23%) had an area of hypoesthesia (cold sensation was blunt but still present) on the superior part of the popliteal fossa, and the other 6 (20%) had sensory deficit located at the medial aspect of the thigh. The three-in-one block resulted in blockade of the lateral aspect of the thigh in 87% of cases, whereas the anteromedial aspect was always anesthetized. By use of magnetic resonance imaging in eight volunteers, we demonstrated that the obturator nerve has already divided into its two branches at the site of local anesthetic injection. However, the injection of blue dye after having simulated the technique in five cadavers showed that the fluid regularly spread to both branches. We conclude that after three-in-one block, a femoral nerve block may have been assessed as an obturator nerve block in 100% of cases when testing the cutaneous distribution of the obturator nerve on the medial aspect of the thigh.
Implications: Previous studies reporting an incidence of obturator nerve block after three-in-one block may have mistaken a femoral nerve block for an obturator nerve block in 100% of cases when the cutaneous distribution of the obturator nerve was assessed on the medial aspect of the thigh. The only way to effectively evaluate obturator nerve function is to assess adductor strength.