Ultrasound-guided thoracic paravertebral blockade: a cadaveric study

Anesth Analg. 2010 Jun 1;110(6):1735-9. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e3181dd58b0. Epub 2010 Apr 30.


Background: Multiple approaches to the paravertebral space have been described to produce analgesia after thoracic surgery. Ultrasound-guided regional anesthesia has the potential to improve efficacy and reduce complications via real-time visualization of the paravertebral space, surrounding structures, and the approaching needle. We compared a single- versus dual-injection technique for ultrasound-guided paravertebral blockade in a cadaver model, evaluating the spread of contrast dye and location of a catheter.

Methods: Thirty paravertebral injections and 20 catheter placements were performed on 10 fresh cadavers. The paravertebral space was identified using an ultrasound probe in the transverse plane using a linear transducer. An in-plane needle approach was used. Using analine contrast dye, a single 20-mL injection at T6-7 on one side and a dual-injection technique of 10 mL at T3-4 and T7-8 on the contralateral side were performed on each cadaver, followed by insertion of a catheter through the needle. The cadaver was then dissected to evaluate spread of contrast dye and catheter location.

Results: The paravertebral space was easily identified with ultrasound on each cadaver. Contrast dye was seen to surround somatic and sympathetic nerves in the paravertebral, intercostal, and epidural spaces. Contrast dye was present in 19 of 20 paravertebral spaces over 3 to 4 segments (range, 0-10) with no significant differences between single- and dual-injection techniques. Contrast dye spread more extensively across intercostal segments with 4.5 spaces (range, 2-10) covered with a single injection and 6 spaces (range, 2-8) covered with a dual-injection technique (P = 0.03). There was epidural spread of contrast in 40% of paravertebral injections in both single- and dual-injection techniques. Catheters were located in the paravertebral space (60%), prevertebral space (20%), and epidural space (5%).

Conclusions: Transverse in-plane ultrasound-guided needle insertion into the thoracic paravertebral space is both feasible and reliable. However, paravertebral spread of contrast is highly variable with intercostal and epidural spread likely contributing significantly to the analgesic efficacy. A dual-injection technique at separate levels seems to cover more thoracic dermatomes because of greater segmental intercostal spread (rather than paravertebral spread) than a single-injection approach. Catheters are located in nonideal positions in 40% of cases using this in-plane technique.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anesthesia, Spinal / methods*
  • Cadaver
  • Catheterization
  • Coloring Agents
  • Epidural Space / anatomy & histology
  • Epidural Space / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intercostal Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Intercostal Muscles / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needles
  • Nerve Block / methods*
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / anatomy & histology
  • Thoracic Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Ultrasonography


  • Coloring Agents