Nerve injury and regional anaesthesia

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2004 Oct;17(5):417-21. doi: 10.1097/00001503-200410000-00011.


Purpose of review: In recent years there has been a renewed interest in regional anaesthesia, particularly peripheral nerve blockade, not only to improve the patient's well being, but also to meet the requirements of modern orthopaedic surgery. Nerve injury in this context is the complication most feared by the patient, the anaesthesiologist and the surgeon.

Recent findings: To date, data dealing with the incidence of nerve injury in regional anaesthesia have almost exclusively been retrieved from close claims analysis. Recently, prospective, well controlled studies have shown that severe neurologic complications rarely occur: for the upper extremity, an incidence of 0.2-1% has been reported. New insights into the mechanisms of local anaesthetic neurotoxicity have demonstrated that ropivacaine has the least potential for neurotoxicity. Administration of the lowest possible concentrated solution of local anaesthetic is likely to be even less neurotoxic. The role of local anaesthetics in the development of apoptosis is nowadays well recognized. The consequences of other factors, such as nerve stretching and compression, in the pathology of nerve damage are emphasized.

Summary: Significant advances have been made in regional anaesthesia in the past 10 years. The introduction of catheter techniques has cleared the way for better regional anaesthetic and analgesic blocks. Studies dealing with placement of perineural catheters show that the catheter does not increase neurological complications. Properly performed, regional anaesthesia is a safe form of anaesthesia and the benefits far outweigh the risks.